The Lightning made a lot of roster moves during the offseason, and brought up a lot of talent from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. Unfortunately, this meant that we had too many talented forwards, if that can even be considered a problem, meaning that there wasn’t enough room on the roster for everyone. Thus, someone like the Lightning’s 3rd overall pick in this year’s draft, Jonathan Drouin, was sent back to his junior team, but was it the right decision?
When the Tampa Bay Lightning passed on star defenseman Seth Jones in this year’s NHL Draft, instead picking up left wing Jonathan Drouin, some people were less than pleased; however, I knew all along that he would prove to be a valuable asset to the team.
During the preseason this year, Drouin was able to notch 2 assists in 5 appearances. His speed on the ice coupled with his extraordinary puck handling skills that have turned potential situations into opportunities.
As you can see, with performances like this, many people were confused when Tampa Bay Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman, along with Head Coach Jon Cooper made the decision to send him back to the QMJHL and the Halifax Mooseheads.
A lot of people are going to disagree with me, but I think they made the right decision. I know it may not seem like it, especially with first round draft picks like Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones, and Aleksander Barkov lighting up the scoreboard around the NHL.
Here is where the “problem” comes in.
Right now, the Tampa Bay Lightning is very stacked at the forward position. Not only do we have our mainstays like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Nate Thompson, and a few others who won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, but we also have people like Richard Panik, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat who are just as hungry for a spot on the roster as Drouin.
What is the difference between the two? Johnson, Panik, Palat, and the other young players who were added to the main roster this season have all already put in time in the Lightning system.
Johnson had an exceptional season with the Syracuse Crunch last season. Even though he spent 14 games with the main roster last season, he still managed to score 37 goals and 28 assists for a total of 65 points and a plus-26 rating. This led Johnson to be the number one goal scorer in the AHL last season. Johnson was also named as the AHL’s Most Valuable Player that season.
During the preseason this year, the Lightning coaching staff was very impressed with the way that the Johnson-Palat-Panik line. I think this weighed heavily on their decision on what to do with Drouin. Don’t get me wrong, I have been very pleased with the way that Drouin performed during his time in Tampa Bay. This kid has a ton of potential, and won’t be disappearing anytime soon; however, you just can’t mess with chemistry, and this is something that Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik, and Ondrej Palat definitely have.
Now, in all respects, they could have kept him up on the main roster if that was truly their intention; however this may not have worked to Drouin’s advantage. More than likely, he would have ended up on the 4th line, and would probably have seen very little ice time. This is not conducive to someone who is just beginning his professional career and trying to adjust to a team’s system.
Instead, they elected to send him back to the Halifax Mooseheads. There, Drouin will have the opportunity to get max ice time in an environment where he will play a major role.
Now, next season may be a very different story. Right now, there are 5 forwards who become Restricted Free Agents next season and two who become Unrestricted Free Agents. While there are quite a few who I am sure will be re-upped, like Johnson, Panik, Palat, and Alex Killorn, there are also one or two who I feel may be moved in order to make room for some adjustments. However, that again is a different story for a different day.