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Jonathan Drouin Is Not a Bust

Go back and read Calder Trophy favorite lists from last August or September and you’ll find plenty of folks that picked Jonathan Drouin. A few people saw Filip Forsberg’s breakout coming, but in the eyes of many, the Tampa Bay Lightning freshman had the trophy on lock.

After posting 105 points in his draft year, Drouin went back to the QMJHL after not making the Lightning roster as an 18-year-old and scored 108 more points. He was a machine, and was totally out of this world during the Halifax Moosehead’s playoff run last season.

In 16 games he notched 41 points. Forty-one!

To hear the pundits tell it, Drouin was bound for a top-six roll with the Lightning and a 20-plus goal season mirroring what Nathan MacKinnon did a year prior.

That hasn’t come to fruition for Drouin, and some folks are aggravated at his lack of development through 48 games. During the All-Star break, Martin Fennelly of The Tampa Tribune wrote that the forward had been a bit of a disappointment as a rookie. Fennelly acknowledged that the Lightning are spoiled when it comes to rookie production and that Drouin doesn’t turn 20 until March, but the twinge of what should be is still there.

It’s strange that people forget what they were doing when they were 19 or 20. Odds are good that if you’re reading this, trying to evolve into an NHL superstar wasn’t No. 1 on your to-do list at that age. Just because Drouin is an athlete playing a professional sport doesn’t mean that he isn’t dealing with the same thing all people that age deal with.

The idea isn’t to feel sorry for him. He’s making $925,000 this year and gets to travel in luxury while playing the greatest game on Earth for a living. A lot of people need to reign in their expectations when dealing with 18- or 19-year-old players though. Bashing Drouin for “only” scoring two goals is, in a word, ridiculous. He’s 5’11’ and is listed at 192 pounds. Like most kids his age, there’s a lot of growth ahead of Drouin—both mentally and physically.

It doesn’t matter how great your mentors are; some things you can only learn with experience and time in the league. Steven Stamkos is one of the NHL’s best goal scorers and an elite skater, but he had a rough rookie season too. It’s easy to look back at his stats now and say “well dang, he scored 23 goals as a rookie! He’s amazing!”

That isn’t how things went in Tampa during Stamkos’ rookie year though. That was when Barry Melrose tried his hand at coaching again, dragging the Lightning through a 5-7-4 start while talking to the media about how he didn’t think Stamkos should be in the NHL. The team lost their last nine contests and drafted Victor Hedman with the second-overall pick that year.

Stamkos averaged nearly 15 minutes of ice time as a rookie, and was given a ton of time on the power play. Seventeen of his 46 points came on the power play, and nine of his 23 goals came with the extra man. Drouin isn’t receiving that kind of opportunity with the Lighting this season simply because the roster is much, much better than it was back in 2008.

The thought was the Drouin would ride shotgun with Stamkos this season, but he hasn’t been given many looks there. Alex Killorn won that job, and the second line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat is among the league’s most productive.

So what do you do if you’re head coach Jon Cooper? Shake up a top-six that has made the Lighting the highest scoring team (on average) in the league? If he did that and there was a slip, fans would be calling for Cooper’s head instead of talking about how disappointing Drouin has been.

As Cooper told Fennelly for his post:

This isn’t a one-year investment. It’s long term with (Jonathan). It’s a different game than what he came from in junior. But he’s gotten better and better and better. It’s clear when you watch the games now. There’s more command of the puck. He doesn’t rush plays anymore. He knows he has a little more time.

While some folks might be putting some heat on the former second-overall pick for not producing like Sidney Crosby, it’s important to remember he hasn’t been asked or given the opportunity to score like that. Drouin is barely playing 13 minutes a night and he’s still on pace for 34 points.

His vision has been apparent since mid-December or so. The helpers are starting to come with more regularity, and it was his playmaking ability that pushed Drouin to the top of the 2013 draft in the first place. So have patience, Lightning fans. There’s no reason to chase this teenager out of town after 48 contests.

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