Boucher: Lightning Right To Be Patient With Drouin
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s game against the Edmonton Oilers on October 20th was something the hockey world had been anticipating for a long time. Wunderkind prospect Jonathan Drouin would finally make his NHL debut. He would register his first NHL point on a Valterri Filppula goal the next night in Tampa’s overtime win against the Calgary Flames. People really started talking when he assisted on a Steven Stamkos goal in the first period against the Jets later that week. Drouin would also score his first NHL goal 4:45 into the second period. Many Lightning fans seemed ready to hand him the Calder Trophy within a matter of days. Two weeks later the Lightning are taking a more measured approach to Drouin’s playing time. As much as some fans may disagree, the team is making the right move.
After playing on the top line and averaging more than 18 minutes a game, Drouin’s numbers have been drastically reduced on the current home stand. He averaged a little over ten minutes a game on the third and fourth lines this week. The biggest reasons for his inflated TOI numbers in those first few games were injuries to players like Ryan Callahan and Alex Killorn.
He was slotted into the top of the lineup out of pure necessity. The Lightning haven’t lost their faith in Drouin’s potential nor are they looking to slight him. The cautionary tale of Brett Connolly is a big example of what can happen when young players deal with too much too soon. They don’t want to make a similar mistake with such a promising young player. (Photo / Alexis Boucher)
It’s easy to be impatient when it comes to Drouin’s development. He is clearly insanely talented on the ice. He is so supremely gifted that many envisioned him fitting into the lineup without any hiccups, but it’s important to remember he is still a 19 year old rookie. Before the game against Edmonton he had only played two professional games in an injury assignment with the Syracuse Crunch. There is going to be a grace period when he learns what he can and can’t do at this level as opposed to what he could do in junior hockey.
There’s something to be said for practicing patience when it comes to young players. The Lightning learned a very important lesson when Steven Stamkos was drafted first overall in 2008. He has become one of the NHL’s most electrifying players so it’s easy to forget that it took some time for him to become acclimatized to the league as well. It took until his eighth game to register his first NHL point and his ninth game to get his first goal. He was criticized for a lack of production in the first half of the season. Stamkos finished his rookie campaign with 23 goals and 46 points. This includes 19 points in the final 20 games of the season.
Jonathan Drouin is a play maker who has the potential to work magic for the Lightning for a long time to come. We got a glimpse of that with his feed on that Stamkos goal in Winnipeg. The Lightning are in a great position in the standings. Players are healing and returning to the line up. The coaches can ease Drouin into the mix more gradually without risking stunting his development. Fans may be championing a #FreeDrouin movement on social media, but the team is right to take a cautious approach. Drouin is going to be very good for the Lightning for a long time. The most important thing the team can do right now is to continue to carefully foster his growth.
(Feature Box Photo/Susan Ferlita)
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