The Irresistible Future of Jonathan Drouin

Not sure if anyone tracks the stats on when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. I ask because we got a doozy brewing down here in the Sunshine State. Forward, Jonathan Drouin, the irresistible force in our novella, apparently requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning organization sometime in November.

Lightning General Manager, Steve Yzerman, who auditioned as the immovable object during 22 years of ice time in Detroit, has not yet acted on the reported demand of his 20 year old forward that is now entering two months of age.

Drouin spent the season after his draft back in juniors playing for the Halifax Moosehead. Last season was the first season on his entry level contract. With another season to go after the current one on his ELC, it would appear Yzerman’s immovable grip becomes stronger. What improves Drouin’s force irresistibly would be production on the ice. After a minus -2 game in his first game after missing the previous eight games due to a mysterious injury, the team announced that Drouin would be sent to their AHL team in Syracuse for more playing time.

It is curious that the report of the trade request comes roughly 24 hours after the team decides to send Drouin down to or is it up to the Syracuse Crunch to “get ice time”. As expected, Yzerman confirms the reports from Drouin’s agent, Allen Walsh, also reinforcing his immovability, Yzerman states his “sole intention, is to act in the best interest of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club”.

Further, so there is no misunderstanding, Yzerman issued this little reporting ultimatum regarding everyone’s schedule: “We expect him to report for practice with the rest of his teammates, Tuesday morning”. Drouin should definitely set his alarm for that one.

Steve Yzerman
Steve Yzerman

It is no question that Drouin possesses extraordinary offensive skills. That isn’t the argument. Most sports operate in a meritocracy. The players that play well move up. They earn more based on merit, not their contract, not formal requests from their agents but what they do on the ice, good or bad.

They move up to top lines, they move up in time on ice and they see time on special teams. Owners don’t care who gets top line minutes. General Managers don’t care about special teams’ ice time as they do about production on the ice. Coaches care about the players that give their teams the best chance to win two points every game. Fans tend to be the ones that get caught up in the emotions of an issue like the one we have in Tampa.

Does that mean that some coaches don’t have favorites? Human nature dictates the affirmative. But most coaches that reach the NHL level favor the players that give their teams the best chance to win. Coaches want hard working players and reward high work ethic with increased time on the ice. This is where Drouin struggled at times.

Player for the System

The players that have succeeded well in Coach Jon Cooper’s system are guys that play strong defensively in the neutral and defensive zones. Watch Ondrej Palat. First of all, you will see a guy who plays hard in the neutral zone. This manifests itself in both turnovers at best and difficulty in entering Tampa’s zone at the least. Palat sees good ice time because of this value. Because this is the type of ice production that earns players more time in Cooper’s system.

This aspect of his game has not yet been fully developed by Drouin. Where he does excel is in offensive production. He is tied with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, for seventh most points per game this season. Drouin accounts for more points per game then a veteran group that includes Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan, and Brian Boyle. It is also more productive than two players who most consider breakthrough players this year in Vlad Namestnikov and J.T. Brown. There is an argument to be made in a year where the team has struggled to score, a guy like Drouin could only help.

The flip side is turnovers. Drouin leads the team in turnovers per 60 minutes. At 2.46 turnovers per 60, his lead on this team stat is insurmountable. The unfortunate thing is that this aspect of Drouin’s game leads to decreased minutes.

Yzerman is the reigning NHL GM of the Year. He wasn’t given this distinction based on longevity; he’s only been a GM for five years. He earned the honor for making moves like trading Cory Conacher for Ben Bishop. He received the GM Trophy for trading a disgruntled Marty St. Louis for Ryan Callahan and two top draft choices. This move already tipped the scales Tampa’s way but when you realize that St. Louis tied one of Yzerman’s hands behind his back by demanding a trade to only one team, exercising his no trade clause, the fleecing, er trade by Yzerman is even more remarkable.

Like the St. Louis trade, this latest dustup has fans on both sides of the fence. Many fans see the potential in Drouin’s game. His offensive skills are impressive. Cooper needs to give him more playing time. While others think that Drouin is being outplayed by guys who are out hustling him for playing time. Brown, Namestnikov and Jonathan Marchessault are giving Cooper and the team what they need most nights.

Last season, Yzerman traded away the player that was his very first draft pick. Brett Connolly was traded to Boston last spring. A number six pick in his draft year, Connolly never lived up to his potential in many eyes and was dealt away. Clearly, the immovable object will move if he can cut his perceived losses. This move was for the best interests of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club as Yzerman said then and time has proven now.

Both parties in our story are in their corners, Drouin and his agent report the trade request on the heels of a surprising demotion. Yzerman confirms the request and digs in the sand (or ice) and says the kid has until Tuesday morning to report. Here’s hoping Drouin shows up on time.

System for the Player

If Drouin truly wants to be traded, show the other 29 teams that when faced with adversity, you hunker down. You keep your head up and perform on the ice to the best of your ability without allowing off-ice distractions affect your play.

Once Yzerman makes the decision that young Mr. Drouin no longer belongs in the Tampa Bay organization, then a move will be made. The fact that Drouin is still in the organization, albeit in the AHL, should tell anyone that Yzerman still sees upside. How Drouin handles this week is huge for his future. Not just with Tampa but also for the rest of his career. but it would be a shame if an off-ice incident is what leads Yzerman to believe keeping Drouin no longer benefits the franchise.

This could be a win-win for Drouin. Prove that you belong. Prove that the number three draft pick was worthy of your talent, not just your potential. There are many players from his draft class that have learned to be productive members of an NHL team. Drouin can either rise to this level or sulk his way to obscurity. How he handles this demotion begins this chapter and perhaps the success of the Drouin story.

I believe with his offensive skills, he is more than halfway there. Show Yzerman and the entire NHL that the skills you possess are not greater than the heart you have every time you skate onto the ice whether it is in Tampa or Syracuse. It is two and one half seasons since you were drafted. Almost three years since you were among the most highly touted 18 year old players in the entire world. Then, the questions about your abilities were of the “how good will he be?” variety and not the “will he ever get there?” kind.

Yzerman isn’t going to move unless he’s convinced the Lightning would be better served. Drouin has to decide how this drama plays out.