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Drouin's Lightning teammates surprised at his trade request, hope he stays

Published Jan. 5, 2016

CALGARY — The news of Jonathan Drouin's November trade request broke Sunday afternoon while the Lightning was on a plane headed for Calgary.

And if you ask Lightning players and coach Jon Cooper, that was the first time they heard that the No. 3 overall pick in 2013 wanted out of Tampa Bay.

"I don't think anyone really saw that coming," goaltender Ben Bishop said.

"If that stuff has been bothering him, he hasn't let that come into the room," captain Steven Stamkos said.

"All that stuff is kind of surprising, to be honest," Cooper said.

Teammates were supportive of Drouin after Monday's practice in Calgary for tonight's game against the Flames, saying he has been a "real pro," a "great kid" and "tremendous talent." They hope Drouin stays with the organization, though that remains uncertain.

Drouin, 20, reassigned to AHL Syracuse Saturday to get more playing time, intends to join the Crunch for today's practice. Cooper said the touted wing would be welcomed back to Tampa Bay with open arms, adding this hasn't strained their relationship.

"You never want to be in a situation where somebody wants out," Cooper said. "This is probably not the first player that's ever asked for it. But it's too bad. It's another situation you wouldn't see this coming.

"But who knows. Who knows how this is going to end up? Jonathan may be with this team in a few weeks and maybe playing the minutes he wants."

General manager Steve Yzerman said his "sole intention" is to do what's best for the organization.

Teams definitely will inquire about Drouin. If a deal makes sense, it wouldn't be surprising if Yzerman makes a move. But the Lightning has to be careful, NBCSN's Pierre McGuire said.

"It's a dangerous game for both sides," McGuire said. "Because this is a really, really talented player. Sometimes organizations, they become frustrated and they move a player before they should."

Cooper said Drouin, who has played just 19 games this season because of injury, was sent to Syracuse "strictly to get him minutes and get him back." When Drouin is ready, he'll return.

"Jonathan is part of the Tampa Bay Lightning," Cooper said. "He was a high draft pick for a reason. We think he can make us a better hockey team."

Clearly, Drouin appears to feel he is not in the best situation to succeed after playing bottom-six minutes for most of last season then being scratched in 20 of 26 playoff games. Stamkos, a healthy scratch on occasion his rookie year, empathized.

"I think guys realize what has gone on since Jonathan has come into the league," Stamkos said. "I can certainly attest to coming in at that age, hoping for the best right away, and wanting certain things that you're accustomed to getting right away, whether you deserve it, whether some coaches give you a chance right away. Every organization, every coach has different view on it. You look back on those first two years … it sucked at the time, but I can speak from experience, it made me a better player, better person, just know how difficult it is in this league and what you have to do, and sometimes the break you get to be successful when you look back and say it was for the best.

"We're all hoping that's the case for Jo. He's still our teammate. He's still a great kid. He's still our friend. Hope he goes down and lights it up and comes back here and help our team. Because he's that type of player. He can make a difference on a nightly basis."

It definitely raises the question about the responsibility the Lightning organization should shoulder for this. No matter how you spin it, a top-five pick wants out.

"When we sit here as a coaching staff, our job is to coach and win hockey games and get the best out of our players," Cooper said. "And with everyone that has come through here, we feel we've done our best to do that. Unfortunately whatever Jonathan and his agent has given as a reason, we've never intended that. One thing is when players are drafted and put through our system, it behooves us to make them the best possible players we can to help our team win. That's what we want to do and that's what we're trying to do."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.