A more humble and poorer Jonathan Drouin spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since refusing to report to the Syracuse Crunch in January and was subsequently suspended without pay by general manager Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Nearing the end of Year 2 of his entry-level contract, the disgruntled winger chose to sit out, forgoing paycheques and AHL shifts in hopes that Yzerman would grant his trade request and gift him a fresh start by Feb. 29. That never happened.
“I think our relationship’s fine. We’ve talked to make the decision to come back here,” Drouin told reporters, via Syracuse.com. “I think we’re going to fix this in the summer and see how it goes from there.”
The 20-year-old, who had been skating at Montreal’s Concordia University, said he returned to his team because he missed the game. He’s a hockey player; playing hockey is what he does.
Drouin was the last skater to leave the Tuesday's optional skate, taking extra shots on goalie Kristers Gudlevskis. He said he knows he'll have to perform well to earn the trust of his teammates. If he works hard enough, Drouin said, he could earn a call-up to the playoff-bound Lightning. Yzerman has left that door open, and the player needs two more games on an NHL roster this season if he wants to avoid delaying unrestricted free agency for another season.
"Sitting at home is not what I wanted to do. I want to play hockey, help the Crunch," Drouin said. "I missed hockey sitting at home. Watching hockey on TV and all that stuff is not what you want to do. I'm happy to be back here and playing hockey."
The sophomore admitted that it was difficult dealing with the public criticism his holdout inspired and said he kept in touch with teammates during his sabbatical.
Yes, he wishes he was traded last week, but Drouin asserted he's happy to be back with the Crunch and ready to shake off the rust.
"I came in yesterday, hung out with the guys, went for supper, so it was pretty good," Drouin explained. "You definitely care how people see you. It's going to be up to my play on the ice to show that I was ready to come back and play hockey.
"You definitely want to make sure you're perceived the right way."
Drouin and the Crunch take on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers Friday.