Prior to Tampa Bay’s home game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Amalie Arena, Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced the team will not release forward Jonathan Drouin to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, which starts December 26 in Montreal and Toronto.
Yzerman said with Drouin playing his rookie season in the National Hockey League, the team felt it was best if Drouin remain with the Lightning to continue his progression as a professional.
“If you went and watched him play last year, you would notice a significant…improvement: played center, became a real good face off man, an outstanding penalty killer, strong in the D zone,” Yzerman said, referring to Drouin’s season last year with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. “The NHL is a different league, and it’s just going to take a little time adjusting. We’re asking him to do more than just score, (to) be good in all aspects of the game and he’s committed to it and we want him to get as much opportunity here.”
Also before Thursday’s game, the Lightning announced forward Ondrej Palat is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Yzerman said Palat being out also played a part in the decision to keep Drouin in Tampa Bay.
“Probably the biggest part of it is, again, the coaches have worked a lot with Jon on playing a certain way and adjusting to the National Hockey League, and he’s really working at it,” Yzerman said. “Now, there’s an opportunity that he may play more. Ondrej’s not playing tonight with an injury, and I’m not really sure if he’s out for one day or a week or what not. So, it’s a chance for Jon to play more.”
Drouin has one goal and 10 assists in 20 games entering the Carolina game. He scored his first professional goal in his third NHL game at Winnipeg.
“He’s doing a good job,” Yzerman said. “He’s very smart. He’s very enthusiastic. He’s putting the effort in. It’s just a matter of time, getting the opportunity.”
As far as Palat, Yzerman didn’t have a timetable for his return and said the Lightning currently have no plans to recall a player from their AHL affiliate in Syracuse. But, Vladislav Namestnikov is just “a phone call away” he added.
“For tonight, we don’t have any plans [to bring somebody up], but that could change tomorrow,” Yzerman said.