Jonathan Drouin Shines In Pro Debut


Jonathan Drouin scored the game winning goal for the Syracuse Crunch in his pro debut on Friday night.  The Crunch defeated the Springfield Falcons 3-2, and evened out their record at 1-1-1 on the season.

It was a sparkling debut for Drouin, who, after fracturing his thumb, is in the AHL on a conditioning stint that will last a maximum of two weeks.  While he went without a point in the first two periods of play, he was obviously the best player on the ice wire-to-wire.  And by a good margin.

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Drouin’s skills were on display from his very first shift.  Playing on a line with a pair of standouts from this year’s Tampa Bay Lightning training camp, “Dumptruck” Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Marchessault, Drouin dazzled with his puck-handling ability, speed, and vision.

The line was dominant, cycling the puck in the offensive zone, creating scoring chances, and had near-misses on seemingly every shift.

While Drouin wasn’t on the scoresheet for either of the Crunch’s first two goals, he was instrumental in both.  On the first, Drouin beat out an icing call and got the Crunch’s cycle started, which eventually led to Marchessault receiving a pass at the top of the left circle and firing a nice wrist shot past Falcon’s goalie Anton Forsberg.

The Falcons tied the score up seven minutes later when former Lightning player Dana Tyrell scored, and then early in the second period Domenic Monardo put the Falcon’s up 2-1.

By midway through the second period it was clear to everyone that Drouin was playing at a different level—including the Falcons.  Near the end of the period, Marchessault, coming out of the corner with the puck, faked a pass to Drouin, who was by that point getting plenty of attention.  The fake successful, Marchessault circled back toward the net and found Paquette standing all alone at the opposite circle.  Paquette fired a shot into a gaping net to tie the score at two.

And then it was Drouin’s time to really shine.  Nearing the midway point of the third, the Crunch lost a defensive zone faceoff.  As Falcons’ defenseman Denny Urban tried to corral the puck, Drouin popped up and chipped it past him and out of the zone, and from there Drouin was off, blazing up the ice and into the offensive zone.  As the second Falcons’ defenseman, Austin Madaisky, dove desperately, swiping at the puck, Drouin fired a wrist shot from the faceoff dot that beat Forsberg over the left shoulder.

And that’s where the scoring ended.  The Crunch won the game 3-2, and Drouin was on the ice for all three Crunch goals.  To anyone who was afraid his game wouldn’t translate to the pros, it was an eye opening performance.  Drouin looked pretty much the same in his first AHL game as he looked in the QMJHL for the past two years—dominant.

Of course, it was only one game, and the AHL is not the NHL.  But watching big strong defenders struggle to contain Drouin was encouraging to say the least.  They looked like men trying to hold onto a live wet fish.  He’s slippery, this kid.

With all the attention on Drouin, it would be easy to overlook the other good performances by Lightning prospects.  Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning’s other super prospect, was terrific in goal, for one.  He made 27 stops on route to his first North American victory.  Marchessault, who was a surprise at this year’s Lightning training camp, finished the night with a goal and an assist.  And Lightning fans probably remember Paquette, the pesky kid in whom Jon Cooper showed incredible faith in last year’s playoffs, who now is developing into a Mr. Everything in Syracuse–a go-to guy in every key situation.

Other notable performances were had by Henri Ikonen, Slater Koekkoek, both of whom have gotten a lot of attention as prospects, and Joel Vermin, who hasn’t.  Captain Mike Angelidis (a known favorite of Cooper’s) had two fights in the game.  Dylan Blujus amd Cody Kunyk each scored their first professional points, Blujus with an assist on the Marchessault goal, Kunyk with an assist on Paquette’s.

But let’s face it—this night was about Drouin.  That was clear going into the game, and it was especially clear when the game got underway.  Drouin created offense in nearly every shift by way of superior quickness, speed, creativity, and vision.

Shortly after the game, the Syracuse Hockey twitter account tweeted a quote from Marchessault about Drouin: “There’s no wonder he’s the (third) pick overall.  Everything I heard was exactly what I saw.  It was amazing.”

The Crunch will next be in action tomorrow night (Saturday) against the Binghamton Senators, a game that’s expected to be tougher than tonight’s.  After that, the Crunch will be off until next weekend when they are scheduled to play three games in three nights.

Because of Drouin’s age and status as a former CHL player, his stint with the Crunch can last a maximum of two weeks.  But if he continues to perform the way he did tonight, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Lightning cut it short.  They could use a playmaker right now, and while Drouin obviously has a long way to go before he proves himself at the NHL level—like playing in his first NHL game for instance—after tonight’s performance, if you’re a Lightning fan, it’s hard not to be excited.