ANAHEIM, Calif — Jonathan Drouin's dazzling assist Monday made all the highlight shows and left teammates shaking their heads.
But what might be more telling is that Drouin was put on the ice to protect a lead in a 2-1 win over the Kings. That hasn't happened often the past few years, showing how far the 21-year-old has come, at least in the minds of the coaches.
"It definitely does," Drouin said. "It's nice to see you get trust from your head coach."
Coach Jon Cooper said Drouin earned it. Drouin was the best player on the ice Monday. And though Drouin was seemingly playing at a different speed than everyone else, he also was in complete control. It's all coming together for Drouin, who is riding a career-high five-game point streak and has 22 points in his past 19 games. His 13 goals in 37 games this season are a big jump from the eight he scored in his first 91 career games.
"When he doesn't try to do too much and keeps it simple, he can be an extremely effective player," goalie Ben Bishop said. "When you're that young, you want to make an impact right away. Sometimes it's (better) doing the right thing and staying under the radar than trying to be noticed every single night. I think he's figuring out the happy medium of how to play, and he can be really scary out there. If he's being responsible defensively, he's going to be an All-Star for a long time."
Drouin's resurgence couldn't have come at a better time as the Lightning fights for its playoff life. Since captain Steven Stamkos' knee injury Nov. 10, no Tampa Bay player has scored more goals than Drouin (11). Only All-Star Victor Hedman has more points (25) than Drouin (24) in that stretch.
Drouin, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013 by the Lightning, is becoming a go-to guy for Tampa Bay, like he was in last year's playoffs. And he's also likely driving up his price tag as a restricted free agent this summer.
"I'm definitely not a young guy anymore," Drouin said. "You just get experience. You get used to the league. You feel more comfortable with your team year in, year out, and this year I'm not the guy that talks in the room and stuff like that, but on the ice I want to play like a veteran and help this team."
There have been games this season in which Drouin has been the most dynamic player. But as it is with most of the team, an issue has been finding consistency. When Drouin is moving his feet and using his speed, he can be hard to stop, like Monday, when he had four shots.
"You feel it when you go on — your legs are going, you feel comfortable," Drouin said. "(Monday) was one of those days where it felt like I had a step on someone, had time to make plays."
Drouin and veterans Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula have made up the Lightning's most productive line the past month.
"You see what he has done with the puck, and being so young I think his ceiling is so high," Boyle said of Drouin. "He can get better and better. It's a lot of fun. It's a treat to play with him."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith,