Jonathan Drouin (Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jonathan Drouin made an immediate impact in his first game back with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Drouin, 21, scored four minutes into the third period to pick up the game-winning goal for the Lightning.
When Jonathan Drouin came back to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch and has his team-imposed suspension lifted by Tampa Bay, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said it would be up to Drouin to earn his way back into the Tampa Bay lineup. Over his past 10 AHL games, he had done that, and a string of injuries for the Lightning resulted in Drouin being brought up from the minors.
Thursday, Drouin played his first game for the Lightning since Dec. 30, and the 21-year-old was thrown into top-six duty right out of the gate. And with everyone keeping a close eye on his play — and with a lot to prove — Drouin scored an insurance goal early in the third period that turned into the game-winner.
Breaking down the right wing, Drouin took a slick drop pass from Vladislav Namestnikov and found some open ice thanks to a loose stick on the ice and a great drive to the net by winger Alex Killorn. Drouin took the space, came in on New Jersey Devils netminder Keith Kinkaid and snapped the puck five-hole:
The goal was Drouin’s third of the season coming in his 20th game, but that he immediately made an impact for the Lightning is impressive given how much pressure there was on him to perform.
One of the most difficult things for Drouin in his recall from the AHL is going to be getting back up to NHL speed and earning the trust of coach Jon Cooper, who has said before that Drouin’s game suffers when he’s forced to play in his own zone. In Drouin’s first game back with the Lightning, though, Cooper gave the youngster some rope and let him be creative. Drouin played 15:41 total ice time, which is his fourth-highest ice time of the season.
The expectation was that Drouin would be a factor on the Lightning’s power play, especially with Steven Stamkos, Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman out of the lineup. That was the case Thursday, as Drouin skated 1:45 with the man advantage, tied with Killorn for second-most among forwards. Only Valtteri Filppula, 2:17, saw more ice time on the power play.