SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Though Jonathan Drouin is out of exile after the Lightning lifted his suspension, the play-making forward’s NHL career remains in limbo now that he’s returned to playing in the American Hockey League.
And Drouin isn’t packing his bags for Tampa Bay just yet based on a few encouraging words expressed by general manager Steve Yzerman.
“I’ve said it since Day 1 I showed up back here: It’ll be up to my play to prove that I can go back up there,” Drouin told The Associated Press last weekend. “I don’t make those decisions. But it’s definitely nice to (hear).”
The 20-year-old referred to comments Yzerman made at the NHL GMs meetings last week. Yzerman called the possibility “very realistic” of Drouin being recalled from the Syracuse Crunch before the end of this season.
Drouin knows better than to take anything for granted during a tumultuous season in which his career has been derailed by injuries, a demotion to the minors, his agent going public with a trade demand, and with Drouin informing the Crunch he would no longer play for them.
Suspended by the Lightning on Jan. 20 after he failed to show up for a game in Toronto, Drouin was reinstated on March 7 after he contacted Yzerman about the possibility of returning to Syracuse.
“At one point, I realized maybe it’s time to get back to playing hockey,” said Drouin, the third player selected in the 2013 draft.
Drouin had two goals and an assist in seven games before he left the Crunch. And he has five goals and an assist in six games since being reinstated, including a two-goal game in a 6-2 win over St. John’s on Sunday.
After scoring the Crunch’s fifth goal on a wraparound, he made it 6-2 with a power-play goal. Breaking up the right wing, Drouin sneaked past defenceman John Scott along the boards, drove in alone on net and snapped a shot that beat Zachary Fucale high on the short side.
Scoring was never an issue for Drouin in the Quebec Major Junior League, where he combined for 77 goals and 242 points in 128 games. At the NHL level, Drouin’s defensive play was suspect, which led to him having difficulty earning a regular role with the Lightning.
“There’s a reason why people are down here. If you were that good, if you were doing everything right, you wouldn’t be down here,” Crunch coach and former NHLer Rob Zettler said. “His play away from the puck has got to be better, and I think he knows that.”
Zettler is focusing on the future rather than the past.
“He’s part of the big picture of the Tampa Bay Lightning,” Zettler said. “And what that means going forward, who knows. But the bottom line is he has to play well to help us win, which in turn will help Tampa Bay win, and everybody looks good.”
Drouin isn’t second-guessing himself.
“Looking back in a couple of years, I’ll probably see a couple of things that maybe you did right or wrong. But right now, it’s hard to say,” Drouin said. “Definitely some bumps in the road, so it’s better to learn from them and grow from them.”
NHL All-Star MVP John Scott could never imagine walking away from a team. The journeyman fourth-liner became an overnight sensation for resisting demands he back out of playing in the All-Star game after being voted in by fans, and then being traded by Arizona to Montreal, and demoted to St. John’s.
Scott took a philosophical approach toward Drouin’s situation.
“You never know who he’s got in his corner whispering in his ear, telling him to do this, do that,” Scott told The AP. “I hope it works out because you look at him, he’s such a talented player. I think any team would be lucky to have him. And he’s just got to work it out.”
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed several NHL teams are having players read a series of cards with numbers on them in a bid to detect concussions. The cards are based on what’s known as the King-Devick test used to detect reading disabilities. The numbers on the cards are spaced randomly, and the test gauges how quickly a person can read them.
Players involved in the experiment took tests before the season to establish a base to compare with follow-up tests.
Daly says the league’s concussion subcommittee will evaluate the results in June.
Senators coach Dave Cameron is on the hot seat after owner Eugene Melnyk expressed his frustrations over the team’s poor record on Tuesday.
In saying, “nobody is safe,” Melnyk specifically criticized Cameron. He called the coach’s decision to start untested backup goalie Matthew O’Connor in the home opener as “stupidity.”
LEADERS (Through Monday games)
Points, Patrick Kane (Chicago), 92; Goals, Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 42; Game-deciding shootout goals, Ryan Spooner (Boston) and Aleksander Barkov (Florida), 3; Save percentage, Brian Elliott (St. Louis), 93.1.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Wild at Avalanche on Saturday in a meeting of teams competing for Western Conference’s final wild-card playoff berth.