CALGARY — Jonathan Drouin wants out of Tampa Bay, less than three years after the Lightning made him the third overall pick in the 2013 draft.
And he just might get his wish.
One day after Drouin, 20, was assigned to AHL Syracuse to get more playing time, his agent, Allan Walsh, said Sunday that he requested a trade for the wing in November.
"It's in everyone's best interest that Jonathan be allowed to move on and play hockey," Walsh said in a statement. "Let's be clear, Jonathan loves playing for fans in Tampa, he loves his teammates, and many people within the Lightning organization have treated him well. It was his sincere intention to play for Tampa Bay for many years."
Whether Drouin plays another game for the Lightning remains to be seen. General manager Steve Yzerman acknowledged the trade request in a statement Sunday evening but said he expected Drouin to report to Syracuse on Tuesday.
"My sole intention is to act in the best interest of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey club," Yzerman said.
Drouin has little leverage. He remains under contract through 2017, after which he would be under team control as a restricted free agent. But with Walsh going public with the trade request, it's likely to at least stir the pot of potential suitors. Also, it can't help Drouin's tenure with the Lightning, which was already rocky.
Drouin can be a valuable trade chip, and good fits could include Toronto, Nashville, Buffalo and St. Louis. Yzerman and assistant GM Pat Verbeek were at separate Blues games last month, and Verbeek also was seen at a couple of Sabres games.
The Lightning could use a right-shot defenseman and/or a quarterback for its power play, like a Kevin Shattenkirk (Blues) or Cody Franson (Sabres). And the Predators are stacked with defensemen. If a team is willing to take on defenseman Matt Carle's contract ($5.5 million cap hit through 2017-18), that could help a trade; the veteran has been a healthy scratch several times.
Drouin's contract is pretty palatable. It carries a $894,166 cap hit, but that also should make him intriguing to the Lightning, who may need young, skilled, cheap forwards even if captain Steven Stamkos, who can be an unrestricted free agent July 1, isn't re-signed.
Despite Drouin's roller-coaster saga in Tampa Bay, Yzerman is still a believer in a forward who not long ago was considered one of the game's top prospects.
"I think he's a tremendous young talent," Yzerman said Saturday. "One, he needs to stay healthy and get in the lineup and show what he can do."
Teams don't give up an asset like Drouin without pause, though Yzerman did deal wing Brett Connolly, the Lightning's sixth overall pick in 2010, to Boston in March. Yzerman is right that Drouin needs to stay healthy. He has played just 19 games this season due to two injuries. He returned to the lineup Wednesday against the Rangers after missing eight games with a lower-body injury.
With wing Ondrej Palat's return Saturday against the Wild, Tampa Bay had 14 forwards, so someone had to go down. And with Drouin not waiver eligible, it made sense to send him and give him a chance to play. Yzerman insisted Saturday that Drouin "expressed to me he understands the reasons for it."
"We want our players to succeed, and we want them to play well and put them in best position to succeed," Yzerman said. "And I believe this helps that."
When it comes to the trade request, the issue appears to be whether Drouin believes he has been put in the best situation to succeed. After being sent back to juniors for the 2013-14 season, Drouin in 2014-15 played sparingly in a bottom-six role during his 70-game rookie season (four goals, 28 assists), his ice time fluctuating. In March, Drouin was on the top line with Stamkos, with coach Jon Cooper saying Drouin earned it. But Drouin was a healthy scratch in 20 of the 26 playoff games as Jonathan Marchessault got in the lineup instead.
Drouin has denied any issues with Cooper, but he did enter training camp with a chip on his shoulder. Drouin led the Lightning with four preseason goals and seemed primed for a breakout season. He started the regular season on a line with Stamkos and racked up six points in the first five games before a nine-game point drought. Then the injuries popped up. And Drouin's minutes again have been all over the map, from a season-high 17:54 against Dallas on Oct. 15 to a low of 9:26 against Calgary on Nov. 12.
It appears Drouin is on a short leash when he makes mistakes in games, which begs the question of whether Cooper trusts him. Drouin has to earn his minutes, and the Lightning has a deep forward group that reached the Stanley Cup final seven months ago. Plus, everyone is healthy now.
The Lightning has enough issues while fighting for a playoff spot, not to mention the potential distraction of Stamkos' contract extension saga, which doesn't appear to be going away soon.
This isn't ideal, not for Drouin and not for the Lightning, which opens a four-game road trip Tuesday in Calgary. Drouin is expected to show up in Syracuse then. Whether he makes it there, or is moved, is up in the air.