How Drouin’s doing heading into Tampa Bay return

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Even Jonathan Drouin‘s critics would probably admit that they’re surprised by how little he’s been missed in Tampa Bay in the early months following that splashy Mikhail Sergachev trade.

With an NHL-leading 54 standings points and an unearthly duo in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov (plus plenty of lesser-mentioned strengths), the Lightning are eyeing a possible Presidents’ Trophy one season after missing the playoffs altogether.

Such context makes it easy to understand this column from Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times, which hypothesizes that Drouin’s return to Tampa Bay will be met not really with boos or cheers but instead a shrug of the shoulders. For what it’s worth, Drouin said all the right things about Lightning fans, via Joe Smith, also of the Tampa Bay Times:

“Thanks for all the support,” Drouin said when asked if he had a message for fans. “Even through the rough times when I came back, didn’t know what to expect, but they were great. It’s a hockey town and people are starting to figure that out, that it’s a city that loves their hockey, they’re passionate about it. It was a great atmosphere. I always had most respect for all the fans in Tampa.”

(The full Q & A is worth your time, as he discusses the pressures of playing in Montreal and if he has any regrets about his time with the Lightning.)

So, the Lightning are doing great and the Canadiens are struggling mightily. Also, when you look directly at the simplest numbers, Sergachev seems to be having a better season that Drouin and it seems like he’ll stick around long enough that this will be close to a one-for-one swap. (A pick could have turned into a second-rounder if Sergachev didn’t stick around, but it sure looks like he will.)

Graphics like these do Drouin no favors:

Still, let’s dig a little deeper to see if the gap is that big. Either way, kudos to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for getting strong value out of Drouin, a player who ultimately wasn’t part of the team’s future plans.

Success for Sergachev

Sergachev is currently in a comfy spot: being set up for success while being shielded from tougher assignments.

The talented teenager averages more power-play time per game (1:50) than shorthanded time served all throughout this season so far (53 seconds). Overall, he’s logging just 15:10 per game, ranking 14th on the Lightning.

It adds some perspective, although it also cements how remarkably dangerous he is offensively. Sergachev has eight goals and 23 points in 35 games; while some of that work will cool off (10.8 is a very high shooting percentage for a defenseman), you can forgive the Lightning for daydreaming about the kind of force he may become when he grows into more frequent reps.

Promoted to a level of incompetence?

Drouin, meanwhile, is in a tough spot with the Canadiens. Marc Dumont makes a strong argument at The Athletic that Drouin and Max Pacioretty should be split up (sub required), and you wonder if Drouin is the same not-quite-a-top-center that Alex Galchenyuk seems to be punished for arguably not being. (Despite getting less ice time than Sergachev at 14:55 per game, Galchenyuk has 21 points to Drouin’s 18, even with Drouin getting 17:41 on average).

Drouin is struggling by just about every measure, as you can beat him up for even poorer than usual work in the faceoff circle (41.2 percent, a career-worst, according to Hockey Reference). Drouin’s possession stats are suffering, and he’s only connecting on 6.6 percent of his shots on goal.

Obviously, things are going poorly, but it must be noted that the Lightning are putting Sergachev in a position to succeed, while the Habs are arguably setting Drouin up to fail by putting too much on his plate.

There could be a light at the end of the tunnel, though. At 22, Drouin has plenty of time to improve his all-around game, even if those steps might seem awkward at times under the harsh spotlight in Montreal.

It would be silly to deny his struggles so far in 2017-18 nonetheless.

For many, tonight will be a situation where Drouin gets humbled. Really, though, this is just another reminder of the mismanagement going on in Montreal, which contrasts especially harshly with the well-oiled machine they’re facing in Tampa Bay.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.