Prior to the highly anticipated NHL debut of prospect Jonathan Drouin on October 20, the whirlwind account of his professional career start was best summed up in this tweet:
Pretty crazy 72 hours for Jonathan Drouin: Played AHL games Fri/Sat in Syracuse, flew to Edmonton Sun and makes NHL debut tonight.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 21, 2014
Four games in five days in two leagues is a lot to ask out of a young man and scoring four points (one goal, three assists) in those four games shows the level of compete Drouin possesses. Then take into account that two of those points helped ensure his teams’ win.
He scored the game-winning goal in his first professional game with the Syracuse Crunch, then contributed to putting the Lightning on the board at the end of the third period against Calgary on October 21 with a secondary assist to Valtteri Filppula, forcing overtime and an eventual Tampa Bay win.
While this is only the beginning for Drouin, scoring clutch goals and making an impact to his teams’ success is what made Jonathan Drouin the third overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft.
A Tale of Two Mooseheads
Drouin had some familiar company at the 2013 NHL Draft with the first overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon.
From 2011 to 2014, Drouin and MacKinnon were teammates with the Halifax Mooseheads, where they combined for 107 points during the 2011-2012 season and 180 points in 2012-2013. After that, however, MacKinnon was chosen first overall in the same draft year as Drouin but saw immediate NHL ice time with his new club, the Colorado Avalanche.
While Drouin was finishing what would be his final year in the QMJHL with 108 points in 46 games, MacKinnon was turning heads and impressing on a much larger stage and the one denied to Drouin: the NHL. With 24 goals and 39 points while lacing up for all 82 games for the Avalanche, MacKinnon did enough in his first year at the Show to all but ensure his Calder Trophy win.
While they played together, a lot of Drouin’s success with the Mooseheads had been attributed to having MacKinnon as his center. However, as the above numbers suggest, Drouin was going to continue to dominate the QMJHL regardless if MacKinnon was dishing him the puck or not.
MacKinnon was given the status of best rookie in the hockey world when he was chosen first at the draft over defenseman Seth Jones and backed that up with a stellar season; Drouin was considered the top prospect by Central Scouting because there were no other clear challengers.
While the sample size is small and MacKinnon jumped straight to the NHL without an AHL layover, both men had four points in their first four professional games. Seeing how well the exceled in juniors, it is easy to picture them becoming the new superstars in the future.
A Long and Winding Road for Prospects
Drouin is not the only prospect to take a slight detour on their road to the NHL, even with the anticipation of his team’s management and fanbase at a premium.
As early as September 2013, NHL.com wrote that “both [MacKinnon and Drouin] are expected to stay in the NHL this season”, but Tampa Bay believed he was better off staying in junior and playing regularly rather than let him play nine games at the NHL level before having to give him an entry-level contract.
With a lot of young talent on the Lightning roster (Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson both were Calder candidates), the team had the luxury of slowly developing their prospect.
Chicago’s Teuvo Teravainen can relate. Like Drouin in 2013-2014, Teravainen has been sent to a lower level in the hockey world rather than stay with the big club. Even though the Blackhawks’ second line center has been a weakness on an otherwise strong team, the Blackhawks’ management made the decision to sign former-Ranger Brad Richards to that role rather than push Teravainen – who had not yet fully adapted to the North American game – too quickly.
While both of these young rookies are eager to make an impact at the NHL level, a little more development never hurts.