Jonathan Drouin on return, regrets and time with Lightning

The former Lightning wing plays in Tampa Thursday for first time since June trade to Montreal
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, celebrates with left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) after the Lighting defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 during an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. Kucherov scored both goals in the win. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)  ORG XMIT: TPA113
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), of Russia, celebrates with left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) after the Lighting defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 during an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. Kucherov scored both goals in the win. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) ORG XMIT: TPA113
Published Dec. 28, 2017|Updated Dec. 28, 2017

When it comes to homecoming, you knew this was going to be a complicated one.

Wing Jonathan Drouin is back, set to face the Lightning Thursday for the first time since getting sent to his hometown Canadiens in the June blockbuster deal that landed defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Here's our story on Sergachev blossoming on and off the ice in Tampa.

Drouin, 22, was the Lightning's No. 3 overall pick in 2013, and one of the most dynamic young players in team history. He was a postseason hero in the 2015-16 run to the Eastern Conference Final. But his tenure in Tampa Bay wasn't short on drama, Drouin requesting a trade from the Lightning in January 2016, then leaving AHL Syracuse in a holdout.

Needless to say, there's not expected to be a video tribute on the Amalie Arena scoreboard, like there was for Ben Bishop earlier this season.

So when Drouin was asked Wednesday what kind of reception he expected from Lightning fans, you could hear the chuckle through the phone.

"It's going to be mixed, like a lot of trades," Drouin told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday. "Some people obviously still like me, and some people didn't like what I did. That's just normal, and part of what happened in Tampa. No matter what happens tomorrow, I'll have a lot of respect for the city and the fans and the team."

Drouin chatted with the Times via phone Wednesday afternoon from Raleigh,where the Canadiens were playing the Hurricanes. Props to Drouin for taking the time on a gameday, the first of a back to back. Here's an excerpt of our conversation:

What are the emotions in coming back and playing in Tampa for the first time?

"It's going to be weird at first, like every trade. It'll be a little different. But  at the same time, it's still very cool to come back. Lot of good memories there. Going to be very cool to jump on the ice on the other side."

When you got the news of the trade to your hometown Canadiens, you called it a "dream come true." Has the experience lived up to that?

"Yes, to this day it's still the same. Coming back, the trade was a dream come true. It's my hometown, it's where I watched pretty much all my hockey when I was young. When I go to the Bell Centre and put that jersey on, it's still a special moment. It's a really cool moment to play in Montreal. And I just enjoy the whole thing."

There's obviously a lot of pressure playing in Montreal, especially being a French Canadian. What has that been like? Seems like you thrive off that.

"It's just the way the market is in, Montreal, I get it. You just put
some stuff on the side and not even read any of it, even if its good stuff or bad. There's definitely a pressure, I like it. I enjoy it. I know a lot of other guys enjoy it as well. You get used to it. There's a lot of guys in that room that have been through that pressure for a lot of years. Nice to have those guys, if there's something you need to clear up. It definitely helps."

I know you've made significant contributions to a local hospital in Montreal ($500,000 over 10 years to Montreal's new CHUM hospital). That's obviously great. What sparked your interest in doing that? I
know your parents both worked in helping kids.

"There were a lot of people that I looked at off the ice. My parents are the first they spent so many years in the juvenile center, lot of kids need help. Going back to Tampa, Ryan Callahan is a guy who always willing to work for his foundation. I remember going to couple of events. And it clicked to me where I wanted to help people off the ice. There's a lot of people, but Ryan Callahan, my family. Those two people are huge with me about that."

When the trade happened in June, did you go into the summer thinking
you would be signing long-term in Tampa? Or was it up in the air in your mind?

"I didn't think I was going to sign long-term in Tampa. We didn't really talk that much about contracts. Obviously, with what I asked the year before, and the expansion draft, where you have to protect players, I had a little feeling maybe I wasn't going to get protected or traded somewhere else, and that's what happened."

Did you think, money aside, you could have made it work long-term
with the Lightning? Seemed like you guys patched things up with the organization since the (Jan 2016) trade request.

"Yeah. After the year we had, the playoffs, the year I had, I thought it definitely could have worked. I think we put things aside at playoffs, and just focused on hockey, and the same thing last season. I think it was up in the air if I was going ot get traded or not, but I think it could have worked for sure."

You mention before how some fans might still not like what you did (with the trade request and holdout). Now that you've had a chance to look back, and time has passed, is there anything you regret with the whole situation?

"Yeah, maybe being more patient in my decision-making, where I'm young and stubborn and want to do my own thing, and what I did. And just the way it turned out. But at the end of the day being patient. But I've said it before, I don't regret what I did, it got to me to my hometown team and a lot of good players to play with."

So it seems like the trade worked out for both sides, you're in Montreal, and Mikhail Sergachev in Tampa?

"Obviously there's a reason I asked for a trade at that time. It's stuff you do, and stuff that's going to go through you until the end of the year. But it's done, and you have to get over that."

What do you think about how the Lightning has done this year? Obviously they're a threat in your division now (First-place Tampa Bay entered Wednesday 18 points ahead of the Candiens, who are six points out of a playoff spot).

"I don't watch much hockey, to be honest with you. But they're obviously having a good year. No surprise they're good team, they're have a lot of good players. They play a fast-pace and they have the players to do it, so no surprise."

What's your message to Lightning fans?

"Thanks for all the support. Even through the rough times when I came back, didn't know what to expect, but they were great. It's a hockey town and people are starting to figure that out, that it's a city that loves their hockey, their passionate about it. It was a great atmosphere. I always had most respect for all the fans in Tampa."