TAMPA — Sick of sitting at home the past six weeks in a holdout, wing Jonathan Drouin returned to pro hockey Tuesday with AHL Syracuse.
His suspension lifted Monday, Drouin, 20, sounded like he took a first step in rejuvenating his career and perhaps his image.
And Drouin, despite requesting a trade in November, indicated his seemingly strained relationship with the Lightning could be salvaged.
"I think our relationship is fine," Drouin told reporters in Syracuse after Tuesday's practice. "We've talked to make the decision to come back here."
Drouin spoke publicly for the first time since walking out on the Crunch Jan. 20, when agent Allan Walsh said the wing wouldn't continue with the organization "in any capacity" until he was traded. But after the Feb. 29 trade deadline passed without any deal, Drouin called Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman and expressed interest in returning.
"Sitting at home is not what I wanted to do, I want to play hockey, help the Crunch," Drouin said. "I missed hockey sitting at home; watching hockey on TV and all that stuff is not what you want to do. I'm happy to be back here and playing hockey."
Drouin, who had worked out near his Montreal home, admitted he's a bit rusty but is expected to play Friday for the Crunch. Yzerman wouldn't rule Drouin eventually receiving a callup to Tampa Bay, but the No. 3 pick from 2013 said he'll have to earn it.
Drouin was one of the last players on the ice Tuesday, collecting the pucks like a rookie.
"It's going to be up to me to put in the work," Drouin said. "I'm not just going to get called up to get called up. I have to put in the work here, and that's what I plan to do."
Yzerman could still trade Drouin this summer, and by playing, the touted wing might help his value and show other teams some maturity. Drouin took a hit publicly with his trade request and holdout, admitting "you definitely care how people see you."
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop said teammates would welcome Drouin back with "open arms." Wing Ryan Callahan said: "Everybody loves him. He's one of us."
Drouin appeared to have regrets on how everything transpired but is ready to move on.
"Obviously I wish it maybe went the other way," he said. "But it (the holdout) happened that way, and it's going to be fixed in the summer and we'll figure it out. But right now I'm just playing for the Crunch. I'm happy to be here."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.