It was only moments ago that Jonathan Drouin had been left for dead.
He was written off and forgotten. He was alone in his room, bitter about his past, uncertain about his future. He had demanded a trade, but no one seemed willing to trade value to Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman. He was the whiner, the pouter, the kid who held his breath until he turned blue, and the NHL would manage just fine without him.
And now look at him.
Drouin is a blur these days, speed and talent on ice. He was lost, but now he’s found, and darned if it didn’t happen in the middle the playoffs. The kid that the league could do without has become an indispensable member of the Lightning.
Now that the series is tied, he might become even more important. It’s all enough to make you wonder if he had a point, if he deserved more ice time all along.
“I’m past that,” Drouin said, not entirely convincing. “I’m not going to think about it. But it’s definitely not where I thought I was going to be when I was back home. I’m definitely happy with the outcome. Yeah, I had a little chip on my shoulder coming in.”
He smiles. He is happy, he said. He is having fun. He is a key part to an NHL team at a key point of the season. What’s not to like?
Did you see Drouin Saturday against the Islanders? He was on the net in a heartbeat, flashing the puck past the goalie for his first NHL playoff goal. It happened light-switch quick.
“He’s played well,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “He’s been great to watch. It’s his play all over the ice. He’s competing very hard. He’s been around pro hockey for a couple years. He’s a smart player. You have to be involved with learning what he can do and what he can’t do.”
Drouin now has seven points in the post-season, six of them assists. Sure, you’d rather have Nikita Kucherov on the ice. Maybe Tyler Johnson. But how many others?
“Drouin is a special player,” said Johnson. “The things he can do with the ability he has is remarkable. I think he’s getting confidence taking the puck to the net. He’s a fun guy to watch. He’s going to keep getting better. He’s learning as he goes, and that’s huge.”
When a player has been forced to deal with today, however, he learns to think short-term. No one promised Drouin tomorrow, and they kind of shortchanged him on yesterday.
“We use the word ‘slippery,’” said Cooper. “He is slippery. It’s like if you ever go fishing, you grab the fish with your bare hand. That’s what he’s like out there. He’s hard to defend. He is so shifty, so crafty and skilled you don’t know what he’s going to do.
“He makes those six-foot passes under pressure on the other guy’s tape. The whole game has slowed down for him, but it’s buzzing for everyone else. That makes him hard to defend. He seems to make those passes under pressure.”
For the Bolts, and for Drouin, the pressure is building.
Still, it beats sitting in your room, staring out the window. Drouin is a hockey player again.
Not a bad one, either.