Drouin sent down to AHL Syracuse
As the Lightning morning skate was about to start Saturday, wing Jonathan Drouin walked out of Amalie Arena, carrying his equipment.
Drouin was reassigned to AHL Syracuse, not an easy pill to swallow for the touted prospect. While it was not officially labeled a conditioning assignment, GM Steve Yzerman said this was a move "specficially so he gets playing time," comparing it to what they did with goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Drouin, 20, has been limited to just 19 games this season due to two different injuries, playing in just five since mid-November. Yzerman said there's no "set date" for Drouin's return to the NHL.
"Jonathan has played in nine games in the last nine weeks," Yzerman said. "He's been dealing with a minor nagging issue that is finally healed. With everyone coming back at the same time, it's a good opportunity to get a young player a lot of ice time, get his game right back on top and bring him back at the appropriate time."
With Ondrej Palat back, "probable" for tonight, the Lightning had 14 healthy forwards, making for a glut up front. And while Jonathan Marchessault requires waivers to get sent to AHL, Drouin doesn't. Drouin returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing seven games with a lower-body injury, a minus-2 in just 10:51 of ice time.
Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, has had an admittedly long year. He has two goals and six assists. Yzerman said he was cognizant how this could impact Drouin mentally, driving the key points home in a meeting Saturday.
"We take everything into account," Yzerman said. "But we have reason for doing it and I believe in the reasons for doing it. Jonathan expressed to me he understands the reasons for it. So again, we want our players to succeed and we want them to play well and put t hem in best position to succeed. And I believe this helps that."
And Yzerman made it clear the Lightning still believes in Drouin.
"I think he's a tremendous young talent," Yzerman said. "One, he needs to stay healthy and get in the lineup and show what he can do."
If Drouin isn't going to play much in the Lightning lineup, limited to 10 minutes on the fourth line, it's almost worth it to give him top-line minutes in AHL Syracuse. Let him get his game going. Coach Jon Cooper, who handles players' minutes, deferred several questions on Drouin to Yzerman this morning.
But Cooper then gradually looped Drouin in with Vasilevskiy, saying "part" of the decision was to get him games.
"Vasy is the same as Drouin, are young and up and coming players," Cooper said. "When you miss a prolonged amount of time, you have it in your best interest to go and get game time, so if you're not going to play as much here, whether it is in net or up front, that's the best thing for the player and the team to get players back in game condition and makes them the best player possible."
The Drouin decision is another sign that Marchessault isn't going anywhere. Marchessault, who has six goals in 21 games, must clear waivers to get sent to AHL. And with it likely he wouldn't make it through waivers this time, Marchessault is likely staying in the NHL indefinitely. "Marchie right now is not biting the bullet by getting sent to the minors, he's just biting the bullet in having a couple minutes reduced," Cooper said. "Marchie has definitely deserved a chance to play and, for the time being, definitely stay here, he's earned that right."
More from morning skate: G Andrei Vasilevskiy, recalled from AHL Syracuse Friday, will start in net. G Ben Bishop, who left practice Friday 10 minutes in, said he was dealing with a minor issue and didn't want to push it. But Bishop got treatment and felt better today, participating in the morning skate, saying he could play if need be, and he'll definitely be ready by Tuesday's game in Calgary. Cooper said Vasilevskiy was going to start tonight's game either way...