Friend MacKinnon understands Drouin's dilemma

Nathan MacKinnon, left, now of the Avalanche, is close with Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin going back to their days as teammates in juniors. Getty Images (2013)
Nathan MacKinnon, left, now of the Avalanche, is close with Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin going back to their days as teammates in juniors.Getty Images (2013)
Published January 13 2016
Updated January 13 2016

DENVER — Few players know Lightning RW Jonathan Drouin better than Avalanche C Nathan MacKinnon.

The two good friends were dynamic linemates for two seasons in juniors with the Halifax Mooseheads before MacKinnon went No. 1 overall in the 2013 draft and Drouin No. 3.

While MacKinnon, 20, was a little surprised Drouin, 20, requested a trade from the Lightning, he also understands why, and what he's capable of.

"He's one of the most skilled players in the league right now — he's unbelievable," MacKinnon said. "It's just funny, you see what people think is too much for him (in a trade), it's just ridiculous. Some of the offers, you hear, 'Oh it's too much for him.'

"He's going to do very well wherever he goes in the right situation. He just wants responsibility. I think in Tampa he feels he didn't get a lot of responsibility. For Jo, I wish the best for him and I hope he does well wherever he goes."

While MacKinnon took off from the get-go, winning the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie in 2013-14, Drouin was back in juniors. Drouin has six goals in 89 NHL games, playing in 70 as a rookie last season.

Injuries limited Drouin to just 19 games this season, when he had two goals and six assists before getting sent to AHL Syracuse to get more playing time. MacKinnon thinks that if Drouin had played a first full half of the season, "I don't know if this (trade request) would have happened."

"With Jo, he's always been a slow starter in Halifax," MacKinnon said. "It's not easy. He's only 20. He's done some pretty good things, he's been to a (Stanley) Cup final. He's played well. Obviously the numbers haven't been there for him, but you guys watch him all the time, I'm sure there's been a games where you're like 'Wow.' He can take over a game like that."

MacKinnon said playing better on defense was an adjustment for him in the NHL, but coach Patrick Roy wasn't hard on him about it, letting him utilize his offensive instincts while working on his defense.

"Our junior team, we lost five games all year, we had the puck the whole game," MacKinnon said. "We were playing offense for two years, we didn't really play any 'D.' So that's tough. I don't know you can really expect lockdown 'D' when you first come into the league. You can always work on your 'D' but you can't just become an offensive force."

General manager Steve Yzerman said he's "prepared to trade" Drouin, but only if he gets equal value in return. Yzerman is seeking a young player under contract for several seasons as part of a return package, per SportsNet's Elliotte Friedman. The Blues, Predators, Ducks, Rangers have been among the teams thought to have shown interest. But no deal appears imminent.

MacKinnon still believes there's a chance Drouin and the Lightning can patch things up and make it work.

"I hope they salvage it," MacKinnon said "I know he really loves Tampa and wanted to be there for a long time. We'll see.

"They'll definitely miss him for sure."

Familiar face: Not only did Roy coach C Jonathan Marchessault in juniors with the Quebec Remparts, he also coached RW Nikita Kucherov for six games in 2012-13.

"He was phenomenal with the puck when he was with us for a short period of time," Roy said. "He sees the ice and his (hockey) IQ is off the chart. He's an outstanding player, I'm happy for him."

Kucherov appreciated how Roy helped him develop.

"He gave me the first look of Canadian hockey," Kucherov said. "First how to play defensively, how to play in corners, battles. He just opened my eyes to play here."

Nuts and bolts: D Matt Carle returned to the lineup after being scratched the previous three games, the Lightning going with seven defensemen. Marchessault and RW Erik Condra were scratched. Cooper said it was so they can rotate everyone in on the four-game Western trip.

Contact Joe Smith at Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.