To understand Drouin’s impatience, consider Barkov’s big payday

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The Florida Panthers made it official this morning, announcing they’d signed 20-year-old center Aleksander Barkov to a six-year contract extension worth a reported $35.4 million.

By putting pen to paper, Barkov became the first member of his 2013 draft class to really cash in. No bridge deal. Straight to the big money out of his entry-level deal. Invest wisely, don’t do anything stupid, and he’s set for life.

Others could soon follow from that 2013 class, including first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon, fourth overall pick Seth Jones, sixth overall pick Sean Monahan, eighth overall pick Rasmus Ristolainen, and 10th overall pick Valeri Nichushkin. All five are pending restricted free agents. Perhaps some will end up signing a bridge deal, like fifth overall pick Elias Lindholm agreed to over the summer. But all five will have every right to push for the kind of money and security that Barkov got. 

Then there’s Jonathan Drouin. He was the third overall pick in 2013. He’s not even in the final year of his ELC yet, because he was sent back to junior after he was drafted. Now he’s suspended without pay by the Tampa Bay Lightning after refusing to report for AHL duties.

For his decision to request a trade, Drouin has been labeled a “crybaby” and a “quitter.” Said Ducks GM Bob Murray: “Entry-level players requesting trades. Amazing.”

And perhaps Drouin is being a tad petulant. It’s worth noting that, in announcing Barkov’s extension, Florida GM Dale Tallon lauded the youngster for his “exceptional game at both ends of the ice.” Worth noting, because it was Drouin’s defensive game that Bolts coach Jon Cooper said needed to improve.

But then, it’s also worth asking — what if Drouin had been drafted by the Panthers, a team that’s missed the playoffs the past three seasons, and not the Lightning, a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last year? Is it not conceivable that Drouin would have been given more of an opportunity to play regularly?

Of course it’s conceivable! It’s not rocket science. Ice time is harder to come by on good teams. Not only is there more competition on a Cup contender, there’s more at stake. Can’t be having young players making young-player mistakes with a championship on the line.

Case in point, remember when Cody Hodgson was with the Canucks? That was a very similar situation to the Drouin one, right down to the outspoken agent. Hodgson, a center, was eventually traded to Buffalo, where he didn’t have to play behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. He got way more ice time on a bad team and quickly cashed in with the Sabres. No bridge deal. Straight to the big money out of his entry-level deal.

That’s what Drouin wants. Not to follow Hodgson’s career path, obviously. But to receive a better opportunity.

So, bash him if you still want to. But it’s his career, not yours. If you were in Drouin’s shoes, you might look at the deal Barkov just signed and wonder when your big payday was coming, too.