Sep 24, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin (27) handles the puck against the Nashville Predators during the first period at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators beat the Lightning 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Drouin: Ready for Prime Time Player

A year ago, Jonathan Drouin was the number three pick in the NHL Draft. Selected by our very own Tampa Bay Lightning. Being drafted by an NHL team is the crowning achievement for any youngster who plays hockey. However, the happiness felt by Jonathan Drouin during the draft last year, was short-lived.

You see, Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager, Steve Yzerman sent Jonathan Drouin back down to his Junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads. He was the only player of the first five selected in last year’s draft not to play at all in the NHL last season.

Talking about that decision this year, Drouin tells of the disappointment he felt. It must feel like someone cut him off at the knees. It is basically a message saying “kid, you’re not good enough yet”.

Hard pill to swallow when you’re 18 and tabbed as one of the best players to come in a while. Bitter pill to take when your line mate at Halifax, Nathan MacKinnon is picked number one, two slots ahead of you, then goes on to play in the NHL, while you are sent back to your Junior team. The bitterness continues when MacKinnon is voted Rookie of the Year in the NHL. Ouch. That has to sting a little.

Maybe it does and Jonathan Drouin is hiding that fact. He seems to be saying all the right things this year. He acknowledges the disappointment of last year, not being able to play in the NHL. He says it was tough, but he also says, he is a better player now as a result of that decision.

Maybe the kid is just putting a positive spin on a question he’s asked constantly. Maybe he’s just giving out the team P.R. answer. I’m not going to judge the guy’s sincerity. I will say this however, I spent a couple days at the Tampa Bay Lightning Development Camp last week.

Drouin was there. He played. He skated with a bunch of guys who are not even going to sniff the possibility of a chance to make the final roster this year for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now is not their time. But it is Drouin’s time and he played with these guys and in my opinion, Drouin gave us a sneak preview of what is to come.

He skates so well. He stops on a dime and as the old joke goes, makes change for you. He sees the whole ice and makes some sweet passes. No doubt, if you happen to play on the same line as him, you better keep one eye on him because before you know it, the puck is on your blade.

I saw what Al Murray, Tampa Bay Lightning Director of Scouting must have seen before helping Yzerman make the decision to draft this youngster. I saw a little into the future of what is going to play out at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. This kid is the real deal and this year he is ready for prime time.

I would go as far as saying that he has to be the early odds on favorite for the Calder Award, given to the Rookie of the Year.

I went back and looked at stats achieved by Jonathan Drouin while at Halifax the last three years. This guy AVERAGED 1.86 points a game for the last three years. Averaged almost 2 points a game for a three year period! That, to me is astonishing. In fact, last year, he put up 2.34 points a game.

I have also seen videos of him play at Halifax. Jonathan Drouin can flat out play. I know there will always be naysayers who will tell me, “give the kid a chance”. “Juniors are not the NHL”. “Don’t put too much pressure on him to perform”.

All valid points but let me tell you this. It’s just a hunch I have, but I have been watching hockey for a long time. I actually have seen Bobby Hull play and Gordie Howe, albeit he was in his 50’s. I saw a young kid in Boston, last name Orr, play. I have seen my share of hockey games and some great hockey players. My point isn’t to compare Drouin to these Hall of Famers. That isn’t fair to him. My point is that I have seen hockey for a long time and along the way, some great players.

Having said that, this Drouin kid has the goods. Obviously, time will tell but barring injuries, being able to watch Jonathan Drouin who is 19 years old and Steven Stamkos, who is 24 play for, let’s say, the next 10 years in Tampa will be a treat. Any hockey fan worth their salt should watch with glee. Any non-hockey loving fan should investigate. Take some time away from whatever you do this fall and watch the Lightning. You wil be hooked, I promise.

I hope Jonathan Drouin keeps a little of that disappointment he felt last year. I hope he uses that to motivate himself every game for the rest of his life. He will be better for it and needless to say, so will his teammates and the entire Tampa Bay Lightning organization.

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