Sunday, January 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jonathan Drouin goes from villain to Lightning savior (w/ video)

TAMPA — A spoiled brat. That's what he was called. A selfish, arrogant, self-entitled punk. A quitter and a whiner. A rotten, no-good, waste-of-talent know-it all.

That's what Jonathan Drouin was just a couple of months ago.

Know what you should call him now? The Lightning's best player.

No kidding. Jonathan Drouin is Tampa Bay's best player. Bet you never thought you would read that sentence. But it's true. Drouin is the most skilled player the Lightning has, and his dazzling offensive talents were on full display Saturday.

The little troublemaker who was never supposed to wear a Lightning uniform again was the best player in that Lightning uniform Saturday, scoring his first career postseason goal and adding an assist in Tampa Bay's 4-1 victory over the Islanders in Game 2 to even their second-round playoff series at one game each.

"He has been carrying this team ever since he has come up here," goalie Ben Bishop said.

His seven postseason points are third on the team. His six assists are tied for the team lead. And his puck-dangling skills are second to none.

On Saturday he played as if the puck was glued to his stick as he darted in, around and through the Islanders' defense.

"Drouin is a special player," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "The things that he can do, the ability that he has, it's pretty remarkable."

Oh my gosh, his story this season is almost too juicy to believe.

The Lightning's 2013 third overall draft pick doesn't like Tampa Bay. Wants to be traded. Gets shipped to minors. Packs his gear. Goes home. Doesn't get traded. Crawls back to the minors. Earns his way back. Gets called up.

And now Drouin is the player the Lightning is turning to when the series is a stake and the game is on the line and the season is in jeopardy.

"When you need the big goal to get us going, there he is, creating offense and scoring for us," coach Jon Cooper said.

Drouin's goal Saturday, a neat little backhander under Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss at 11:55 of the first period, turned out to be the winner, making the 21-year-old the youngest to score a postseason winner in franchise history.

Even Drouin has to smile about this soap opera.

"Definitely, it's not where you think I was going to be when I was sitting at home," Drouin said, "but I'm definitely happy with the outcome."

Drouin tries to play it cool. He tries to play it humble. But come on, there HAS to be a little "I told-you-so" in the back of his brain.

"Not really," Drouin said.

Really?

"I definitely had a little chip on my shoulder going in," Drouin said. "Again, I'm just playing hockey and trying to help us win, and it's going well."

He can say that again.

It's going so well that if the Lightning had any thought of trading the little bugger in the offseason, it needs to nix those plans. Drouin is a special player who is finally playing like a special player.

"He's a fun guy to watch," Johnson said. "He's getting that confidence, and he's just going to get better. He's learning as he goes, and that's huge."

Wait, he will get better?

"I'm still not there," Drouin said. "But it has been better and better every day."

Clearly he is a different player than he was before going to the minors in January. He has gone from soft to gritty, from a peripheral player to one who is involved. Once a bystander, he's now engaged. With the loss of captain and leading goal-scorer Steven Stamkos to a blood clot, Drouin's contributions are even more noticeable.

And needed.

Even the man once thought to be his biggest critic is one of Drouin's biggest fans.

"It has been great to watch him," Cooper said. "When you need the big goal to get us going, there he is creating offense and scoring for us. But it's not just that. It's his play all over the ice. He is competing really hard."

What happened? Did Drouin suddenly just wake up one day and get it? He credits his time in the minors. Cooper just sees it as a young man growing up.

"He has been around pro hockey for a couple of years," Cooper said. "He's a smart player. He understands the game.

"You have to be involved in a little bit to find out what you can do and what you can't do."

Now there seems to be nothing Drouin can't do.

"I'm really comfortable right now," Drouin said. "Every game that goes on, it's getting better and better."

Saturday might be the best he has ever played. He dominated several shifts, at times looking like he was playing against a bunch of squirts out there. That was especially evident when the puck was on his stick.

"It's just instinct," Drouin said. "I guess I didn't have that earlier. I learned that in the last year. The puck feels like the stick end of my blade."

He has been welcomed back by teammates. And the Lightning fans who figured to shun and boo him now chant his name.

"Definitely cool," Drouin said.

And it sounds as if Drouin loves being in Tampa Bay.

That's another sentence you never thought you would read.

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