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Jonathan Drouin's impact with Lightning growing each game

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Everything that went down during the Jonathan Drouin saga earlier this season was quickly put in the past by the Tampa Bay Lightning. If there are grudges by his behavior in taking his puck and going home, they aren’t being shown.

What’s being shown is how valuable a productive Drouin can be to a Lightning offense that is missing Steven Stamkos.

After torching the AHL with nine goals in 10 games upon his return, Drouin has gotten over not being dealt at the trade deadline and been nothing but an asset for the Lightning. He scored twice in his first two NHL games after being recalled in April and followed that up with four assists in Tampa’s first-round series with the Detroit Red Wings.

It’s been the Round 2 series against the New York Islanders where Drouin has made the biggest impact. Through three games he has a goal and three assists as the Lightning have built up a 2-1 series lead.

It appeared Drouin’s positive progression was in question in Game 3 following a big open-ice hit by Thomas Hickey in the second period. But after passing all the baseline testing — twice, according to head coach Jon Cooper — the 21-year-old forward returned in the third period and registered the primary assist on Nikita Kucherov’s tying goal with 38.4 seconds to go in the third period.

While Kucherov and Tyler Johnson have been primary contributors offensively for Tampa, Drouin’s presence has increased, even as his average ice time has dropped since the Red Wings series. But as Lambert noted on Monday, we're seeing the Drouin we expected.

“I feel confident more. As every game goes on I feel better and better,” Drouin said following Game 3. “Even today, I felt better. Definitely happy with the way it’s going.”

During his time away from the Lightning, Drouin trained and skated on his own in Montreal. His future was cloudy, with no one knowing whether he’d remain with the Lightning after the Feb. 29 trade deadline. GM Steve Yzerman was in no rush to deal the No. 3 pick from the 2013 draft, and held tight through the deadline after not receiving a satisfactory offer to help his team now.

While he waited in hockey purgatory, Drouin didn’t sit around and pout about the predicament he put himself in. He hit the rink and worked on parts of his game he felt needed improvement while waiting for clarity on his future.

“I wanted to make sure I go to those tough areas, make sure I’m harder on the puck, harder when I don’t have the puck either,” Drouin said. “I was looking at that on my time off. It’s definitely one of the things I wanted to improve on.”

Drouin’s play certainly raises the idea that a summer trade can be put in the past and both sides can look toward a bright future.

Could what happened to him during this season end up being a great learning experience for Drouin? Perhaps.

“It’s hard to say now,” said Cooper. “I think you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Jonathan and how he’s handled everything since he’s come back. He made some decisions and I respect him so much. He stuck up for what he believed in at the time. People can debate whether it was right or wrong, but he came back to a hockey player. It’s been a pleasure to coach him. He’s injected some life into our team. He’s been great to be around. Just what happened tonight, just spells how his character and what he’s about. I’m real proud of him.

“The story’s not over. We’re in the first couple of chapters. This guy is going to write one heck of a hockey story for himself.”

 

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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