Jonathan Drouin ready ‘to play or not play’

Nick Kypreos, Mike Johnson, George Stroumboulopoulos, Kelly Hrudey and Elliotte Friedman recap Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks.

CHICAGO — Jonathan Drouin has a chance to win a Stanley Cup in his rookie season. This is what the 20-year-old thinks about as he volleys in and out of the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup.

It’s been a test of patience, especially during Game 3 on Monday night, when he did an interview with TVA Sports in warmup assuming he was playing only to be scratched for Nikita Nesterov.

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By now Drouin knows the drill; a decision on his playing status is only going to be finalized by head coach Jon Cooper in the minutes before the game.

“I’m not the guy going looking for interviews,” he said Wednesday. “Someone told me to go do an interview in the warmup and I did. It just happened. …

“He’s going to wait until the last moment to make a decision, and you have to be ready for either one, to play or not play.”

Heading into Game 4, he expects the same protocol to be followed. Drouin has been told to skate with his teammates at United Center and will likely learn afterwards if he’s in or not.

Throughout these playoffs Cooper has been unafraid to swap players in and out of the lineup. Drouin played well in Tampa’s Game 2 victory, but was replaced on Monday so that Cooper would have seven defencemen and 11 forwards at his disposal.

Drouin played 70 games in the regular season and has dressed for four in the post-season. While obviously not enjoying sitting out, he’s focused on being ready to go when called upon and savouring the chance to chase a championship.

“This is not how I envisioned it, but I’m not the one making the decisions,” said Drouin. “Since the start of the year and the start of the playoffs, I’ve had to carve out a place for myself and force him to put me in.”

The other Lightning players believe that Drouin is destined for great things. Captain Steven Stamkos called it a luxury to have someone with so much skill available to come in and applauded the young winger for how he’s conducted himself in recent weeks.

“He’s a competitive guy, he wants to go out there,” said Stamkos. “He’s got tons of skill and he wants to prove that. At the same time I think he realizes the magnitude of where we are. This is his first year and he’s handled it great.

“I mean he comes to the rink prepared to do whatever the coaches ask of him.”

Once again on Wednesday night that will mean showing up ready to play while knowing there’s a chance he won’t.

“The way the playoffs have been going, you’ve got to be ready for anything,” said Drouin. “Hopefully I’m in tonight again.”

At puck drop we’ll see.

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