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Drouin trade request creates buzz at AHL arenas

by Joe Yerdon

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- When Jonathan Drouin took the ice for Syracuse on Monday afternoon for its American Hockey League game against Rochester at Blue Cross Arena, the attendance was announced at 5,540, but that number didn't include the many NHL scouts here hoping to get a good read on him.

The Tampa Bay Lightning sent Drouin down to their AHL affiliate on Jan. 2. The next day, Drouin's agent, Allan Walsh, made public that his client in November had asked to be traded, and NHL scouts have attended Syracuse games in droves ever since.

Eight NHL scouts were listed as in attendance Monday for the game between Syracuse and Rochester, but others were there on their own to take a look at Drouin, the third pick at the 2013 NHL Draft.

"I try not to [think about the scouts], it gets in your head a little bit," Drouin said. "You try to focus on your game and the rest will settle itself."

Syracuse coach Rob Zettler said Drouin has fit in with his teammates.

"I see a kid who is really engaged," Zettler said. "I see him having some fun, I see him having some fun with his teammates. I asked him what he did yesterday, he said, 'I was just hanging out with the boys.' He's engaged, he seems to be having some fun with his teammates, and we're winning some hockey games, so I think he's having some fun."

Drouin didn't have any points and was called for slashing late in the first period of Syracuse's 2-1 win, but he showed the abilities that have other NHL teams at the very least intrigued by a potential trade with Tampa Bay.

Late in the third period, Drouin corralled the puck at center ice, accelerated into the offensive zone, skated around a defender, and went in against Rochester goalie Nathan Lieuwen. Even though Lieuwen made the save, Drouin's abilities to change the game were apparent.

"He's been really good," Zettler said. "I thought he was really good tonight. He got denied in the third period on an unreal rush. I thought he broke up a lot of plays on the backcheck coming back hard to break up their plays in the neutral zone. I thought he was really good."

Plays when Drouin uses his speed, like his chance against Lieuwen, are why other NHL teams are eager to get a look at him and perhaps take a chance at acquiring him in a trade.

"There's certainly a level above," Zettler said. "That's why he was drafted third overall, but some of the small things, the small details he does: Picking the pucks up in stride that aren't on his stick or are in his skates; the ability to make plays in small areas, he's very instinctual that way; some of the passes, the outlet passes he's able to make, are very high-end, obviously. I think overall his game's been good and I just look forward to him growing and growing; he's been fun to work with."

The Jan. 2 demotion was Drouin's first time in the AHL since a conditioning assignment in October 2014, after he missed Lightning training camp because of a broken right thumb. He has six goals and 34 assists in 89 career regular-season games with Tampa Bay.

In seven games with Syracuse this month, Drouin has two goals and an assist, but he said his focus has been more about other aspects of his game.

"I don't really care about points, to be honest," Drouin said. "I came down here to work on my game and make sure I work on the little details. If the points go in, they go in; if they don't, they don't. It's not really what my focus is on; I just want to play my game."

Drouin's time in Syracuse could be viewed as a setback for a player with high expectations and high aspirations, and his trade demand could've made things more difficult upon being sent to the AHL. That apparently couldn't be further from the truth.

"It's fun," Drouin said. "This is a great group of guys. We have a lot of fun down here. Those guys, they want to win. It's the same thing when I come here, we want to win. We've been on a bit of a roll, so I think we're happy with that."

Syracuse has won four of the seven games Drouin has played, including two straight. Even though Drouin's situation is different compared to his AHL teammates, whatever the future has in store for him, whether it be a trade or being recalled by the Lightning, he's prepared for it.

"I don't control anything," Drouin said. "Whenever it happens, it happens, and we'll just go from there."

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