After sitting at home for six weeks in a holdout, wing Jonathan Drouin was back on the ice Tuesday with AHL Syracuse, which could be a first step in rejuvenating his career and potentially repairing his image.
And it sounds like Drouin hasn't ruled out eventually returning to the Lightning.
Despite having requested a trade in November, Drouin, 20, said he thinks his relationship with the organization is salvageable.
"I think our relationship is fine," Drouin told reporters in Syracuse after practice, per Lindsay Kramer from the Syracuse Post-Standard. "We've talked to make the decision to come back here. I think we're going to fix this in the summer and see how it goes from there."
Drouin said he worked out at Concordia University in Montreal during his layoff, which started when he failed to show for a Jan. 20 game with the Crunch in Toronto, sparking the suspension.
"Sitting at home is not what I wanted to do, I want to play hockey, help the Crunch," Drouin said, per the Post-Standard. "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. I'm a hockey player, you love hockey. You want to be part of a team."
Drouin called GM Steve Yzerman last week after he wasn't traded by the Feb. 29 deadline, telling the Hall of Famer he wanted to come back. Drouin said he stayed "neutral" about getting traded.
"Anything can happen, it wasn't my decision," Drouin said. "(Yzerman) decided to hold on and that's the way it went and we're going to go from there. I couldn't really control it, so I didn't want to get too excited, get traded or not. I was pretty neutral about all that stuff."
Returning to the Crunch could help Drouin in his quest to be traded, with other GMS likely viewing this move as a positive. Plus Drouin can show what he can do on the ice, starting with Friday's game. While Yzerman said after the trade deadline he'd wait until the offseason to consider dealing Drouin, he wouldn't exclude the possibility of the No. 3 overall pick from 2013 getting called up by the Lightning this season. Goalie Ben Bishop told the Times Monday that Drouin would be "welcomed back with open arms."
But Drouin knows there's no guarantees.
"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."
Drouin said teammates kept in touch, but there was no intervention to force him to return. He told the Post-Standard it was hard to take hits publicly. Does he have any regrets?
"Obviously I wish it maybe went the other way," Drouin said, per the Post-Standard. "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."