PHILADELPHIA — The Jonathan Drouin saga took another stunning twist Monday.
Drouin, 20, will return to AHL Syracuse for the rest of the season, beginning with today's practice, and his suspension from the Lightning was lifted. This comes six weeks after Drouin, who requested a trade in November, left Syracuse Jan. 20, vowing — through a statement by agent Allan Walsh — not to be part of the organization in "any capacity."
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman had left the door open for Drouin, but didn't expect the No. 3 overall pick from 2013 to respond. But after staying put at the trade deadline, Drouin called Yzerman to "express an interest in returning to play."
"I guess I always felt it was a possibility," Yzerman said. "It was, if anything, a pleasant surprise."
Yzerman said he hadn't spoken with Drouin since reassigning him Jan. 2. The next day, Drouin's trade request became public, Walsh calling the relationship "untenable." However, Yzerman indicated Drouin could get called up by the Lightning if needed this season.
"I will do what's best for the team," Yzerman said. "If Jonathan is playing well and is the right fit, I certainly wouldn't exclude that possibility."
Drouin has been working out at home in Montreal, practicing with his old midget team, and Yzerman doesn't expect it to take him long to "get up to speed." Drouin is expected to play Friday for the Crunch.
Drouin could still technically get traded this season, but wouldn't be eligible for the NHL playoffs. But Yzerman said it's "not an opportune time to be trading anybody." It's assumed Drouin will get dealt this offseason, but could this relationship possibly be salvageable long-term?
"I'm not going to rule anything out," Yzerman said.
Teammates, including Brian Boyle, called it a "smart move" for Drouin to play.
"I think it's the right thing to do," goaltender Ben Bishop said. "It's kind of a shame that he stopped doing it in the first place. But he's a good kid, he's going to have a bright future. It's good news, I'm glad to hear he's coming back and playing."
Would Drouin be welcomed back in the Lightning locker room?
"Absolutely," Bishop said. "Everybody here realizes there's a business side of things. And he's a young kid. Sometimes when you're that young and have people telling you things to do, it's not always the right thing to do. You're not going to hold that against an 18-year-old kid or 19-year-old kid. But if he goes down, puts in his work and if things work out and he's back here, he'll be welcomed with open arms."