Jonathan Drouin Only Plays Waiting Game

There is a Battle Drouin

There is a battle brewing in the Tampa Bay area among Lightning fans.  I have seen articles in the two major dailies as well as a number of fan blogs all with the same topic – Jonathan Drouin.  There are some who are already saying that the #3 draft pick in the 2013 NHL Draft is a bust.  There are others who are saying that Steve Yzerman made a mistake drafting Drouin ahead of defenseman, Seth Jones.

Yet there are others that are pointing their fingers at Coach Jon Cooper for not showing the requisite confidence in the 20 year old rookie by sitting him throughout most of the playoffs thus far.  Lastly, there is a group of writers and fans that say Drouin is to blame.  Drouin, a pre-season favorite for the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year did not come close to those lofty expectations and Cooper is merely putting on the ice the players that give Tampa the best chance of winning and that doesn’t include Drouin.

Advancing the Notion of Advanced Stats

Okay, here is my disclaimer on hockey’s advanced metrics.  I am not sure exactly what they say about either a player or a team.  I understand puck possession is a key component to success on the ice but it has always been that way.  You cannot score without the puck so ergo get the damn puck.

When it comes to Corsi For and Corsi Against and Fenwick stats, the argument can be made that Jonathan Drouin did not come close to meeting expectations this year.  There are a lot of NHL people who believe the jump from Juniors to the NHL is difficult.  Despite playing his draft year in Halifax in the Juniors, Drouin still was attempting to make this jump.

One doesn’t need to look any further than Drouin’s linemate from Halifax.  Nathan MacKinnon made the Junior to NHL leap in 2013 when he was the #1 pick two slots ahead of Drouin.  All MacKinnon did was win the Calder Trophy that year.  In his second year with Colorado, MacKinnon appeared to regress as his 24 goals and 39 assists in his rookie year dropped to 14 and 24 this season.

Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin
Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin: the Halifax Mooseheads dynamic duo. (Mike Dembeck)

Reviewing Drouin’s advanced stats this year, shows that he was 10th of 13 Lightning forwards in Corsi For per 60 minutes.  His Fenwick numbers showed him to also be 10th out of the 13 Tampa forwards.  These, my friends, are 4th line production.  So, Cooper has to make a decision here.  Does he play Drouin on the 4th line when he knows the 4th line is going to have to be defense first?  Or does he sit Drouin in favor of a 15 year veteran like Brenden Morrow?

How You Drouin?

To address the folks that are calling Drouin a bust, I urge them to look at this long-term form the organization’s perspective.  The Tampa Bay Lightning has an abundance of depth at the forward position.  This depth was one of the main reasons that Yzerman made the Braydon Coburn trade at the March deadline.  Giving up a young player in Brett Connolly to insure the playoff tested Coburn.

The team has the Triplets plus Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn.  Add Valtteri Filppula, Cedric Paquette, Vladislav Namestinikov and Brian Boyle.  Don’t forget J.T. Brown, Brenden Morrow and Jonathan Marchessault.  With Drouin, that is 14 forwards when Cooper generally suits up 12 and in the playoffs has played several games when he suited up 11 forwards, choosing to go with 7 defensemen.

Ultimately, when a team enjoys these types of riches, a player’s performance and production is what equates to playing time.  In an earlier article, I called for Cooper to play Drouin, especially when Steven Stamkos was struggling to get a goal.  I figured that as the number two player in assists per 60 minutes, Drouin could feed those helpers to Stamkos to get him off the schneid.

In hindsight, I agree with Cooper.  It is kind of hard not to as Cooper has led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals.  So, to all of you fans that continue to bang the drum about Drouin playing, at least give Cooper the benefit of the doubt.  With all his previous championships he’s earned at all the levels he has coached, he deserves at least that.  Should the Lightning fall short of the coveted Stanley Cup, there will be plenty of time for second guessing from all the couch coaches.

Trouble in Paradise

One final group I want to address is those that are calling Cooper’s decision to sit Drouin during these playoffs the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  There have been newspaper columns in town that say this decision to sit Drouin cannot be rectified – ever.

First of all, let’s go back one year.  In the first round of the playoffs last season, Jon Cooper sat a 20 year-old forward in games three and four against Montreal.  I’d wager that there were people who were calling Cooper every name in the book for this hare-brained idea.  But that young forward understood and came back this year and had one helluva season.  Who was that young player you ask?  Well none other than one-third of the infamous Triplets line, Nikita Kucherov.  So, let’s put the Drouin’s time in Tampa is numbered crap to rest.

There is no doubt in my mind that not playing in these playoffs is killing Drouin.  It probably is every bit as difficult for Drouin as the news last year when the organization informed him they were sending him back to Halifax in the Juniors for one more year.  There seemed to be no ill effects from that organizational decision for Drouin.  There shouldn’t be any dramatic fallout from the ongoing decision by Cooper to sit him now.

The Role for Jonathan Drouin with the Team

As the Bolts prepare to continue in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers, Jonathan Drouin is part of the “Black Aces”.  Along with some players who played most of the season with the AHL Affiliate, Syracuse Crunch, Drouin is practicing along with Jonathan Marchessault, Luke Witkowski, Slater Koekkoek and others in the event of an injury or coach’s decision puts them in the starting lineup against New York.

As far as the future, let’s hope that Drouin realizes that to play for Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay Lightning he needs to become more of a two-way player.  That has probably been communicated to Drouin on more than one occasion.  Time will tell if he gets that message and it translates to his play.  Unfortunately for some Tampa Bay Lightning fans, that opportunity is not likely to happen in these playoffs.