Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Jonathan Drouin puts in extra work for Team North America in World Cup

TORONTO — Jonathan Drouin lingered on the ice Tuesday afternoon, nearly all alone.

Team North America's brisk practice had been over for more than 15 minutes. Several players were already in the shower. Connor McDavid was holding court with the media in the Ricoh Coliseum dressing room.

But Drouin, 21, remained, slowly skating, stickhandling, shooting into an empty net.

Benched for the second half of Monday's 4-3 loss to Russia in the World Cup of Hockey, Drouin dropped to the fourth line Tuesday, along with the Sabres' Jack Eichel.

Drouin knows, on a team loaded with the game's top young stars, he's going to have to earn his ice time with a bounce-back effort in a must-win showdown today against Sweden.

"It's up to me to be better," Drouin said.

Drouin has had better days in this tournament, scoring a goal in Sunday's first game, a 4-1 win over Finland. But with Russia roaring back in Monday's second period, scoring four straight goals, McLellan shortened his bench. That was where Drouin stayed, playing just 9 minutes, 59 seconds (8:10 even strength), after logging 15:26 on Sunday.

Drouin wasn't alone, as Eichel played just eight even-strength minutes, Dylan Larkin 5:33 overall.

"It's definitely tough," Drouin said. "We knew coming in that's how it was going to be, not everybody can get 20 minutes. We have to expect that, you've got to be ready, if it's eight minutes, 12 minutes."

On Tuesday, there was no here-we-go-again eye roll from Drouin, who saw his ice time fluctuate in Tampa Bay last season before his trade request; his eventual redemptive return and monster postseason got him a spot on this team of American and Canadian 23-and-under stars.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper is an assistant on Team North America, but calling the shots is head coach Todd McLellan, who admired Drouin's path to the tournament.

"Obviously he had a tough year with everything that went on," McLellan said. "So for him to perform the way he did for Tampa in the playoffs, he's a pretty resilient young man. He drove a lot of the play for Tampa."

Drouin figured his 14 points in 17 playoff games would give him a chance to make the North America team. But he admitted he was surprised when Blackhawks (and North America) GM Stan Bowman called.

"Jo is playing with the best players in the world in his age group, and he's one of them — he belongs," Cooper said. "He's deserved that from the progression he made last year."

Drouin began World Cup camp on a line with McDavid, the 2015 No. 1 pick who is already arguably the best player in the world not named Sidney Crosby.

"He's unbelievable," McDavid said of Drouin. "He's got so much skill, he plays so fast, and has the puck on a string. He's got all the tools to be an unbelievable player."

Said Eichel: "He's super skilled, makes a lot of good plays. He's a smart player, understands the game well. I'm excited to play with him."

How much Drouin and Eichel play today (3 p.m, ESPN) remains to be seen. McLellan said the issue with Drouin on Monday was that he was too hesitant to shoot.

But like his Team North America, which most likely advances to this weekend's semifinals with a win, Drouin isn't expected to go out quietly.

"I thought (Drouin's) play has been quite good throughout the tournament," McLellan said. "His game (Monday) wasn't his best, but the best evaluation a player has is his self-evaluation, and if they're honest with you, they'll tell you, they'll believe it and they'll come back with a great performance. And Jonathan will do that for us (today)."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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