Markus Naslund knows a little bit about what Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin is going through.
Naslund, 42, was a touted first-round draft pick with the Penguins in 1991, a highly skilled left wing who struggled to get ice time on a stacked Pittsburgh team that ended up winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in '91 and '92. The forward group included Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr — you might have heard of them.
Naslund requested a trade in 1996, and he was dealt at the deadline to Vancouver for forward Alek Stojanov, who was selected nine spots ahead of him, at No. 7, in the 1991 draft.
"At the time, even though we were different players, it was a somewhat even trade," Naslund recalled Friday in a phone interview from Sweden.
It turned into one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history. Naslund, 22 when he was traded, became a three-time All-Star and captain in Vancouver, where he set franchise records for goals and points, and was the NHL MVP runnerup in 2003. Stojanov became a career minor-leaguer, retiring at age 29 with two goals in 107 NHL games.
It serves as a significant cautionary tale for Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who is seeking "equal value" in a trade of Drouin, 20, a move the wing requested in November and his agent made public this month. Some wonder if "equal value" is even possible for the No. 3 overall pick in 2013 who could end up being a star spurred by a fresh start.
"If you're in the NHL, you have a certain amount of pride in what you do," Naslund said. "There's that element that you want to prove people wrong and want to show that you have more to give. That was a motivating factor for me (in his trade request). I didn't want to give up. It was more to prove to myself and my family that I belonged there. It was a dream all my life to play in the NHL and hopefully play in a role that I didn't up to that point."
Naslund scored four goals in 71 games as a rookie (Drouin had four in 70 last season), saying it was a difficult adjustment from juniors, in culture and competitiveness.
"I wanted to do well right away in Pittsburgh, and I didn't," Naslund said. "It just wasn't that maybe I wasn't getting enough ice time. It was a matter of maybe not being fully ready for what was expected. It does take some time as a young player, even though you had a good junior career. Not everyone steps in and has success right away.
"It's maybe even tougher if you're an offensive player that's expected to produce because there's a learning curve. And some make it look easy, but for others, it might take a few years. You can still have a good, long NHL career."
Naslund said he started to realize he could compete in the NHL in his third season, 1995-96, when he tallied 19 goals and 33 assists in 66 games. "Playing on a line with Mario obviously helped," he quipped.
But after his ice time dwindled in the second half of the season, Naslund talked with GM Craig Patrick and requested a trade. He didn't tell his teammates or make it public.
"(Patrick) was true to his word," Naslund said.
Naslund said it took a couple of seasons for him to fulfill his potential in Vancouver — "it didn't happen overnight" — but he rattled off seven consecutive 25-plus-goal seasons, finishing with 395 for his career. He and his wife ended up raising three kids in Vancouver, where he played 12 seasons before spending his final year with the Rangers in 2008-09.
"Couldn't have been happier ending up in Vancouver," Naslund said. "It ended up working out great."
Drouin is playing for AHL Syracuse while he awaits a trade. What advice would Naslund give him?
"Try to work on the stuff that you can control," Naslund said. "There's a lot of stuff that is out of your hands when you end up being in a situation like that. But I think the key thing for any young guy is to work hard and be a good teammate, and I think everything will work itself out — if you're good enough."