Jonathan Drouin’s rookie campaign has seen its ups and downs — nine points in 18 games, a couple of healthy scratches — but overall, the Bolts are happy with how he’s played so far and still undecided about lending him to Team Canada for the World Juniors.
“We’re really pleased with how he’s coming along,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s doing a lot of good things. We only expect him to get better.”
When asked about Drouin’s availability for the Worlds, Yzerman replied “time will tell.”
Drouin, 19, is one of four NHLers Hockey Canada is monitoring for a potential loan for the Worlds — Vancouver’s Bo Horvat, Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar and the Rangers’ Anthony Duclair are the others. Drouin, however, plays for a Lightning team that’s loaded with depth at forward; on Thursday, the Lightning sent Vladislav Namestnikov down to AHL Syracuse not because he was playing poorly — the former first-rounder had 10 points in 23 games this year — but because playing opportunities were so limited with the big club.
“There are points in the season when you’re healthy, and there are probably more points in the season where you’re not,” head coach Jon Cooper explained, per Fox Sports Florida. “We’re healthy. We have numbers. The same thing happened to [Cedric] Paquette a month ago, and now it has happened to Vlady. Do we expect Vlady to be in the minors for the rest of the season? Most certainly not. But it’s a situation where if he’s going to be in and out of the lineup here, why not get to a situation to play games? And so, he’s a phone call away.”
It’ll be interesting to see if Tampa Bay adheres to that philosophy with Drouin. He’s averaging over 13 minutes a night this year but has seen his ice times dip recently, getting 9:37 in Saturday’s win over Minnesota and 10:19 in Monday’s win over the Rangers. With Team Canada, Drouin would be a front-line player (and a potential captain) and the loan out wouldn’t be very long — the Worlds take place in Toronto and Montreal from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.