CALGARY, Alberta — After being told his NHL debut would have to wait, Jonathan Drouin instead was put on call to prepare to play his first game on Monday in Edmonton.
By all accounts, the debut of Drouin proved to be a unanimous success, even if the No. 3 overall draft pick failed to record a point in his first game after logging 16 minutes, 10 seconds of ice time.
“He comes as advertised,” Cooper said of Drouin. “When he plays with speed, I thought he controlled the game when he had (the puck) on his stick. And for a first offering, I thought it was really good. When you look back, with all the pressure I’m sure he’s had on him for the past few years, that’s a pretty darn good effort. ... I was really happy with him.”
When Alex Killorn fell into the boards during Monday’s morning skate and was unable to play, Drouin was inserted into the lineup and took Killorn’s spot on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Tyler Johnson. As the game went on, and Ryan Callahan had to eventually leave due to injury, Drouin played with a handful of different line combinations, including skating shifts with Steven Stamkos.
On Tuesday, Drouin started on the top line at left wing with Filppula at center and Stamkos on right wing.
“He’s a special player, it’s fun to be on the ice with him,” Drouin said of playing with Stamkos. “But this team has so many good players that no matter who you get thrown on with, no matter what line, you have the chance to play with good players.”
When Drouin came to training camp last season, the expectation was he would start the year with the Lightning and at least get in the nine games that teams have before a decision has to be made whether to send a junior age player back to their junior team.
But after a mediocre preseason, the Lightning sent Drouin back to Halifax, where he dominated both in the regular season and playoffs. While humbling at the time, Drouin said as he looks back now, he knows it was the right move. And had his NHL debut come last season, he might not have enjoyed the same start as he did Monday.
“I don’t think so, to be honest,” Drouin said. “I just feel more mature physically and mentally than this time last year, and I know what to expect now, so I don’t think it would have been the same last year.”
Drouin missed all of preseason this year with a fracture in his right thumb and spent two games on a conditioning assignment with Syracuse of the American Hockey League, where he may have been the best player on the ice while scoring his first professional goal and adding two assists.
“He was pretty good, he was pretty darn good,” said forward Mike Blunden, who was called up from Syracuse on Tuesday and played the weekend games with Drouin. “I was shocked to see, especially on that Friday night, after all that time he missed just coming down ... he has that puck on his stick like a string, so he’s a special player and he’s going to be a great hockey player.’’
After missing out on his debut on Monday, Drouin’s parents — Serge and Brigitte — were able to make it to Calgary in time to see their son face the Flames in his second NHL game.
“It’s fun to see them, and I owe a lot to them, so I hope they enjoy watching the game,” Drouin said.
Chances are, many will get to enjoy watching Drouin play for years to come.