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What We Learned: How Lightning unlocked Jonathan Drouin’s dominance

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

That Jonathan Drouin has stepped up to become a big contributor for the Tampa Bay Lightning in this postseason should only be surprising because of how the team treated him this season.

The story's been told over and over again, but Drouin had difficulty gaining the trust of coach Jon Cooper for reasons still unclear. Things got so bad that he requested a trade early in the season, and ended up being sent down to the AHL about two months later. Then there was the failure to report drama, and then the dominant performances with Syracuse — 11-2-13 and 55(!) shots on goal in 17 games — before he was recalled late in the season.

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Frankly, he was pressed into service by the revelation that Steven Stamkos needed surgery thanks to a blood clot. One imagines he would have gotten the call-up for the postseason anyway, given that Syracuse failed to make the Calder Cup playoffs, but certainly we can guess that he wouldn't be playing the role he has to this point for the big club.

That role has been significant. He's got 1-6-7 with 19 shots in seven games, including his 1-1-2 performance in Saturday afternoon's win. In the first round, he was deployed by Cooper far more liberally than at any point in his career, pulling a little more than 18 minutes per night. In the second round against a better Tampa team, he's back down to less than 15, but is scoring anyway.

Now, we can talk at length about the reasons why Drouin's career in Tampa is off to a disappointing start. He's played 91 games for the Bolts and piled up just 8-34-42, which isn't particularly good. He has been a bit unlucky in terms of the puck going in for him, but also doesn't generate a lot of shots.

Further, because he's playing so few minutes per game — just 13:31 in the regular season for his career — one can reasonably assume the quality of competition he faces should give a player of his skill level a greater opportunity to pile up points.

Data shows that, in terms of 5-on-5 points per 60, the only players to have outperformed Drouin over a period of two seasons at the time of his send-down was the original Triplet line. Drouin was scoring more — despite a crap shooting percent of 3.8 at full strength — than even Stamkos. Over his 89 games, in fact, his points per 60 total was one of the highest numbers in the league. Still, Cooper used him in much the same way as he did Cedric Paquette, which is to say “sparingly.”

Which is to say “perhaps unwisely.”

Now, you can't really argue with the results Cooper has gotten over that time, but one wonders whether the potential misuse of Drouin might have hindered his team at points anyway. How many of those losses or overtime results might have turned into wins had Drouin been put in an actual position to succeed?

It stands to reason that if Drouin can score more proficiently than Stamkos at 5-on-5, even with his ice time coming mostly against fairly soft competition (his most common defenders faced in his career are Josh Gorges, Brendan Smith, Kyle Quincey, Torey Krug, and Rasmus Ristolainen), then a player of his obvious skill level should also be able to score pretty effectively on the power play. However, that really hasn't been the case for most of his career. In the last two regular seasons, Drouin scores fewer points per 60 than Ryan Callahan.

One can assume there are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the most glaring is his near-constant deferrals to other players. In about 168:30 of power play ice time over 89 games (about 1:53 per night), he has just nine shots on goal, a stunningly low number. Brett Connolly, who hasn't been with the club for more than a full season at this point, has more power play shots for the Lightning. He's attempted just 22. One wonders why that would be the case but obviously it was something that needed to be corrected.

Maybe this is one of those issues where a problem like “a lack of confidence” comes into play, because it was fairly clear to everyone paying attention that Drouin didn't exactly have his coach's trust despite his overwhelming talent. Full stop: He shouldn't be getting a smaller percentage of his team's power play minutes than Jonathan Marchessault.

Anyway, all that's in the past, etc. Because with Stamkos out, it's handy for Tampa to have had a high-skill forward sitting around who they weren't using too much, and his usage has consequently skyrocketed. Where before he was playing mostly third- and even fourth-line competition, he's now up on the team's second line.

We're talking small samples against not-great teams here, so take all this for what it's worth, but while Triplets 2.0 are all scoring more than three points per 60 at 5-on-5 in this postseason, Drouin is the only other Bolt north of two. He's also been a possession giant (nearly 55 percent). Again, pushing around Detroit's second liners and all that, but you can only ask him to be better than his competition, and he plainly has been.

But what's also notable is that in Stamkos's absence, Drouin is getting his power play minutes, and making hay with them. He's getting nearly two-thirds of all Tampa's PP TOI and leads Tampa forwards in points per 60 (at 8.76!) despite not scoring a single goal. That's roughly John Tavares territory, and ninth among all forwards in the league this postseason.

Look how much of a difference he's seen:

Not to get too much into armchair psychology here, and not to read too much into usage in the absence of a star forward, but this at least feels like what Drouin's contribution should be. That's the kind of high-test offensive talent he brings to the table, and one imagines that a lot of it comes down to how Cooper has used him.

Maybe you also make the argument that the time in the AHL did him some good, got him refocused, that kind of thing. Maybe he was a dopey kid making bad decisions before, and the demotion got his head on straight.

But maybe — just maybe — it might be as simple as saying that if you put him in a lesser role and he's good, but not as good as you'd like him to be. Rare was the occasion in which Cooper could have been said to have maximized Drouin's chances for filling the net.

Conversely, if you put him in a position to succeed, he succeeds. So far, the success has been nearly overwhelming. The longer it continues, the lower the chances that he returns to his previous role.

Certainly, if this is what Life Without Stamkos looks like for Tampa, maybe Drouin's coming of age tale is enough to convince the club it won't be so bad.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: I can't get over how stupid this is.

Arizona Coyotes: Yeah “holding steady” was probably the best Arizona could have reasonably hoped for. 

Boston Bruins: The good news is Patrice Bergeron should walk away with the Selke again this season. The bad news is that the PHWA still seems to not understand how to evaluate defensive play. Ryan Kesler? C'mon now.

Buffalo Sabres: Seems to be something of a prove-it contract for Johan Larsson.

Calgary Flames: Brad Treliving's comments after the lottery were basically clinging closely to the old adage that you will say the draft is exactly as deep as your-pick-minus-one is. Great players available at No. 6, but No. 7 will be terrible!!!

Carolina Hurricanes: Dang it why'd they have to go and be passably good except for their goaltending and finishing this season? Dang it.

Chicago: Because of the whole Kevin Hayes/Jimmy Vesey thing, you're going to see a lot more teams just throw a bunch of money at any old college junior they drafted to get him good and signed before his senior year.

Colorado Avalanche: Man imagine if they can't re-sign Tyson Barrie? Wooooof.

Columbus Blue Jackets: My only real takeaway from this is that I'm glad John Tortorella isn't going to be in a position to ruin either Auston Matthews or Patrick Laine. Poor Jesse Puljujarvi, though.

Dallas Stars: This feels like some serious chicken-counting but hey, whatever.

Detroit Red Wings: Well this sure doesn't seem fair to the rest of the AHL.

Edmonton Oilers: Yeah they should trade the No. 4 overall for a roster defenseman of some quality. No question about it.

Florida Panthers: So this award is now just points divided by penalty minutes, is that right?

Los Angeles Kings: Two early departures for North Dakota in one weekend. The Fighting Hawks are losing a lot after that national title win.

Minnesota Wild: Safe to say that if Bruce Boudreau is the coach in Minnesota next season (big if), it will be by far the least-talented team he has ever run. So that'd be interesting.

Montreal Canadiens: Oooo, yes, bolder moves like trading P.K. Subban.

Nashville Predators: Gotta work on those third periods.

New Jersey Devils: It's true, Jonathan Quick getting a Vezina nod over Cory Schneider, or Corey Crawford for that matter, is a bit of a joke. Good thing he won't win.

New York Islanders: Yeah, hey, taking a bunch of penalties against Tampa seems like a great idea. No way that bites you.

New York Rangers: Yes it certainly has.

Ottawa Senators: Let's not make promises we can't keep, bud.

Philadelphia Flyers: This Provorov kid looks very, very good. This is a team that could use more offensive talent very badly next season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: You have to hand it to the Pens. They went into the season with a young and kinda patchwork defense, but it's working for them.

San Jose Sharks: Yeah this is what people generally think when a black cat gets up to no good: “I bet that's lucky.”

St. Louis Blues: So it's more than just Tony X., huh?

Tampa Bay Lightning: This team is starting to look very scary.

Toronto Maple Leafs: I guess going Matthews-Stamkos-Kadri up the middle for the next eight years or so won't be too bad.

Vancouver Canucks: This is the kind of attitude you can get away with when you have Brandon Sutter locked up long-term.

Washington Capitals: Targeting the head of a player who has a concussion history, and doing it late. Brooks Orpik should be done for the postseason, but if he is, that's bad news for the Penguins. Because Orpik is awful.

Winnipeg Jets: Do you all think having Kyle Connor and Patrick Laine together for a decade will be good?

Play of the Weekend

No exaggeration that this save from Matt Murray is why the Penguins head home tied in their series. 

Gold Star Award

Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders during game two of the Eastern Conference second round, on April 30, 2016 in Tampa (AFP Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

Tyler Johnson was 2-1-3 on Saturday, which is a good thing to be in the playoffs. 

Minus of the Weekend

Super-bummed the Oilers didn't win the lottery again. That would have been hilarious.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “iFan” has a great idea to mostly help Vancouver.

Oilers get Hamonic and 33rd picked

Islanders get Edler and Hansen

Canucks get 4th overall 


I sleep in a drawer.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)



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