Lightning coach Jon Cooper credits Tyler Johnson’s two seasons in the AHL for producing the playoff scoring sensation that hockey fans are watching today.
What, specifically, did Johnson learn in the minors?
“Johnny learned how to be a pro hockey player,” said Cooper. “He learned that there were two nets on the ice. All these players, regardless who you are, you just don’t — the one thing about the American League is nobody is really watching, and it’s a clear development league. In the NHL, everybody’s watching, and this is a win-now league. So these guys, when they had their ups and downs, they did it in the minors.
“But my experience down there, you watch guys come in and you see guys that come in highly touted and don’t really make it, and you come in and see guys that grind their way out and understand pro hockey and make it. Then you see guys like Johnny that come in with no fanfare at all and become superstars. What he’s doing in the NHL started in the American League. ”
Cooper’s answer is interesting for a number of reasons. From a big-picture perspective, it underscores the importance of proper player development. The NHL may be a young man’s game, but if a prospect isn’t ready, he isn’t ready.
Which brings us to Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. What was it that Cooper said about why Drouin has been a healthy scratch for most of these playoffs? Oh right, it was this: “There is more than one net in a rink. There’s two. You have to be able to play in front of both.”
In other words, don’t be surprised if Drouin, 20, spends some time in Syracuse next season. It’s unfortunate for his development that he wasn’t allowed to go there full-time this season, but those are the rules.