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Lightning coach Cooper says sky’s the limit for Drouin after dramatic campaign

Jared Clinton
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Jonathan Drouin (Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Lightning coach Cooper says sky’s the limit for Drouin after dramatic campaign

Jared Clinton
By:

Jonathan Drouin had a rocky season with the Lightning in 2015-16, asking to be traded before returning to club and becoming a dynamite playoff performer. Coach Jon Cooper said Drouin’s evolution this past seasons means “he's just going to get better from here.”

Jonathan Drouin didn’t win any end-of-season awards, didn’t lead the Tampa Bay Lightning in scoring and he didn’t single handedly carry the club to the Stanley Cup. That said, it’d be hard to think of a player who had a more interesting or up-and-down season than the 21-year-old winger.

Drouin’s season took a turn early in the campaign when injury struck, which led to time on the shelf and eventually a demotion to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. Even before he was sent down to the AHL, though, Drouin had requested the Lightning trade him. He felt he was being under-utilized in Tampa Bay — he has averaged no more than 14:26 despite being a steady producer — and wanted out. He eventually walked away from the Crunch while waiting to be dealt.

The trade would never come to pass, though, and by the post-season Drouin was back with the Lightning, the two sides mended their relationship and he became an important part of Tampa Bay’s post-season run. And given how Drouin performed after such a dramatic campaign, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said there’s no telling what the ceiling is for the youngster.

“Jonathan Drouin always had the talent, he just had to find his way through the mental aspect of the game. When he figured that, the sky became the limit for this kid,” Cooper told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I think if this was a situation where we were giving up on Jonathan Drouin then Steve probably would have traded him, but there is too much in that player.”

Drouin’s performance this upcoming season certainly will be one of the most intriguing storylines in Tampa Bay regardless of what happens with Steven Stamkos in the first year of his new contract or Ben Bishop in what is near certain to be his final season with the team. Drouin netted five goals and 14 points in 17 playoff games, the third-most of any Lightning player, and his .82 points per game was no fluke.

Even though he only suited up in 21 games during the 2015-16 regular season, Drouin’s production has always been steady. Of players to play at least 1,000 minutes at 5-on-5 over the past two seasons, Drouin is tied for 52nd with 1.95 points per 60 minutes. That’s in the same company as David Krejci, Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Scheifele and Aleksander Barkov. And of Lightning players, only the Triplets — Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov — have scored at a higher rate.

“(Drouin’s) still in that development stage, but you can tell, especially that last two months he was with us, he had jump in his step and he had grown a couple inches taller in his confidence with himself,” Cooper told Rosen. “It was really rewarding to see, because you never would have wanted to see what the alternative would be, the bad part, if he'd been traded.”

As the season approaches, Cooper said he believes Drouin will come into training camp with the right mindset and Tampa Bay are hopeful that he’ll be just as effective as he has been in the past two seasons when he takes the ice with the Lightning in the upcoming campaign.

"He knows what's expected of him and what he expects of himself,” Cooper told Rosen. “As I said, we think he's just going to get better from here.”

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Lightning coach Cooper says sky’s the limit for Drouin after dramatic campaign