Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bolts' Boss Cooper Very High on Drouin after Game 4 Win

With Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman out with injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning really need Jonathan Drouin to step up and play big.

He's not letting them down. And his coach Jon Cooper is pretty ecstatic about it.

Cooper said all the right things after his team's 3-2 win over the Red Wings in Detroit on Tuesday, praising the 21-year-old for his eye-opening performance that saw him net three assists and display serious patience and skill on the power play. Whether or not Cooper and the organization's tune will change in the off-season is another story, but right now it's clear that the more air the Lightning can put in Drouin's tires the better off everybody will be.

Could what started as a contentious, disastrous 2016 for the 21-year-old actually have a fairy tale ending? Drouin was sent down to the minors after asking for a trade from Tampa Bay earlier in the season, and then he was suspended for refusing to show up to play. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman made it clear that he was going to play hard ball with his former top pick and eventually, as trade rumors percolated, things took a turn. Drouin got back to business in Syracuse and started tearing up the AHL. The trade deadline came and went and he was still with the Lightning. Then came the injuries to Stamkos and Stralman and Drouin got the call.

With the Lightning on the verge of advancing to the second round, the fairy tale appears to have legs. Speaking to media on Tuesday, coach Cooper said all the right things.

"We never ever gave up on Jonathan," said Cooper. "Jonathan, he's a young kid and he's finding his way in pro hockey and he earned his way back and now he's earning his ice time and now he's helping us win hockey games, which we knew all along he could."

Surely Cooper's praise will get back to Drouin via the media and make him feel wanted. It hasn't always been the case. He has been criticized for poor defensive play by Cooper in the past, and he was regularly scratched during Tampa's run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, playing just six games. But he was a young, developing player on a stacked team. It's par for the course for a player like Drouin in the formative phase of his career.

"I'm just unbelievably proud of the way he's handled himself with our team with the staff," Cooper added. "He deserves this. The way he's played and come back and paid his dues, it's good for him. I'm really happy for him."

It hasn't exactly been a meteoric rise for Jonathan Drouin since he was selected by the Lightning with the third overall pick in 2013, but at least for now, the compass in his career is pointed north again. With the Bolts set to advance to the second round, Drouin might get the chance to show the world that he's an elite player in the making. Whether he stays in Tampa or gets moved in the off-season it's great news.