A Tale of Two Jonathans

There are two players on the current Tampa Bay Lightning roster with the first name of Jonathan. Most NHL fans know about one of them, Jonathan Drouin who was the number three pick in the 2013 NHL draft. This was the draft that was loaded with talent. Among the draftees were Nathan MacKinnon, Alexander Barkov, Seth Jones, Sean Monahan, Rasmus Ristolainen, Valeri Nichushkin and Max Domi. Drouin was considered among the elite in this group enough to warrant the third overall pick.

The other one, Jonathan Marchessault took a very different road to Tampa. Undrafted by the NHL, Marchessault played in the Quebec Major Juniors for four seasons. Playing for the Quebec Ramparts during this time, he began as a defensive minded player earning the trophy as the league’s best defensive player after the 2009-10 season. Marchessault also developed his offensive skills to the point where he scored 70 goals in his last two years in the QMJHL at the same time scoring well over a point a game in this time. Not bad for a kid that wasn’t drafted.

Jonathan Marchessault
Jonathan Marchessault lighting the lamp for the Lightning. (Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

After being drafted in 2013, Drouin was riding high. His linemate from the Halifax Mooseheads, MacKinnon was selected first overall and he was number three. They probably dreamed of taking the NHL by storm. MacKinnon did his part, scoring 24 goals and adding 39 assists in his rookie year with the Colorado Avalanche. Oh and by the way, he also won the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year. What about Drouin you ask? Well, the Lightning sent him back to Halifax that year for another year of seasoning. The kid wasn’t happy but played for Halifax and tallied 108 points (29 goals) in 46 games for the Mooseheads.

Take the Long Way Home

Marchessault meanwhile signed a deal with the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers, the Connecticut Whale. In his only season with the Whale, Marchessault led the team in scoring with 64 points in 76 games. His offensive skills continued to develop in a much more demanding league. After that season, he signed a three year, entry level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Assigned to Springfield in the AHL, Marchessault had a cup of coffee in the NHL in 2012-13 with the Blue Jackets seeing action in two games. A season later, he was traded to Tampa along with Dalton Smith for DanaTyrell and Matt Taormina.

After spending the 2013-14 season in Halifax, Drouin had to figure that the 2014-15 season was going to be a breakthrough for him. Still too young to be assigned to the AHL and simply too good to go back to Halifax, his ticket to Tampa was for all intents and purposes a certainty. In fact, Drouin was the odds on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award. He had an up and down year in the NHL last year scoring four goals and 28 assists in 70 games but was a healthy scratch in 20 of the 26 playoff games the Lightning played last spring.

Coming into this season, Marchessault had a great training camp but was a longshot at making the final Tampa roster. It is tough to break into a lineup that had one change from last year’s Stanley Cup runner up team. After Brenden Morrow retired, the team signed free agent Erik Condra away from the Ottawa Senators but the other players remained the same. So, Marchessault began the year in the AHL playing for the Syracuse Crunch.

This year was going to be critical in the development of Drouin. Two years removed from being the third draft pick, one year from the potentially demoralizing assignment back to Halifax and a year from the less than expected rookie season. In six pre-season games, Drouin notched six goals and added four assists and was clearly on fire to begin the year. He stays hot scoring a goal and two assists in the first three games of the season but has been slowed by an injury. He has only played in 18 of the team’s 37 games so far. After the torrid start, Drouin managed only one more goal and four more assists in the 15 games he has played.

After a rash of injuries that not only sidelined Drouin, but Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette among others, Marchessault was called up from Syracuse. He has not disappointed. In fact, after nine games, the team had a decision to make, send him back to Syracuse or keep him in Tampa but risk him having to go through waivers if they attempted to send him down. The Tampa brass chose to keep him. After 20 games, he has scored five goals and five assists.

With Drouin set to return to the lineup soon, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. The team has struggled to score and a playmaker with the talent Drouin possesses should help immensely. Prior to his injury, Drouin was seen on Tampa’s top line along with Steven Stamkos. The feeling in Tampa since Drouin was drafted was that this is exactly the kind of playmaker that would complement Stamkos’ game well. Kind of like Marty St. Louis did early in the career of Stamkos. But with all the injuries, coach Jon Cooper has put Stamkos with Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov and as of late, this line is scoring in droves. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it comes to mind. So, where does Drouin go?

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
Jonathan Drouin expected to return to Lightning soon. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

On the fourth line, Marchessault’s playing time is somewhat limited to about 10 minutes a game. Earning time on the team’s first Power Play line gets him an additional two to four minutes a game and he is making the most of every second he is on the ice. On a team with bona fide NHL scorers, it may surprise you that Marchessault leads the team with 2.50 points for every 60 minutes played. That is more than Kucherov, Stamkos and any other player on the team.

Two Jons Better than One

Before it seems like I am shutting the door on young Mr. Drouin, let me say that he is fourth on the team with 1.87 points per 60 minutes played. So, I’ll give Cooper this unsolicited advice: match up these two Jonathans. Play these guys on the same line. Yes, I know that at 5’11” and 5’9” respectively, Drouin and Marchessault will look more like a midget team line than an NHL line but the fact is they produce points. They know how to get the biscuit in the basket.

With Drouin being the playmaker and Marchessault being the scorer add Brian Boyle for the muscle. This line will out produce any fourth line in the NHL. Face it, the team is currently on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs go. Currently ninth in a eight team race for the post season. The biggest challenge has been scoring.

Put these two Jonathans together and see what they conjure up. With the speed of these two, with the offensive skills they have and with a veteran like Boyle to keep them in check, this could be the line that finds the magic that the Triplets did last year. The upside is that if they do, opponents will have to defend this line, that will open up things for Stamkos and his line and for Palat and Johnson once they are healed completely.