MONTREAL -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin surprised most of the hockey world with his performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To his former junior coach, that performance came a year too late.
Dominique Ducharme, who was named Monday by Hockey Canada as coach of the national junior team for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, was Drouin's coach when he played for Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Ducharme recalled that Drouin's introduction to the QMJHL at age 16 in December 2011 was not very smooth, similar to his entry to the NHL in 2014.
Drouin had 29 points in 33 regular-season games with Halifax in his rookie season but took off in the QMJHL playoffs. He had 26 points in 17 playoff games, including an overtime goal in Game 7 of the second round against Quebec, which included future Arizona Coyotes forward Anthony Duclair.
It was in some ways similar to the way Drouin had 14 points in 17 playoff games with the Lightning this season after getting 10 points in 21 regular-season games.
"I'm not surprised at the way he played in the playoffs," Ducharme said. "It's a little bit the same process he went through when he showed up in Halifax. Obviously it took longer a little bit in Tampa [Bay], but he really exploded with us in the playoffs, like he did this year. I said last year that maybe he would do it in the playoffs last year. He played less, for whatever reason, and he went through his ups and downs this season, we all heard about it. But I'm not surprised at the way he reacted in the playoffs or what he did."
Video: TBL@PIT, Gm2: Drouin ties the game with perfect shot
Drouin was the No 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and made his debut with the Lightning on Oct. 20, 2014. He had 32 points in 70 games in his rookie season and played in six of the Lightning's 26 playoff games, failing to collect a point. Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final, where it lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
This season, Drouin's agent went public with his request to be traded by the Lightning after he was sent to Syracuse of the American Hockey League. He was suspended by Tampa Bay when he failed to report for a Syracuse game on Jan. 20. That suspension was lifted when Drouin expressed a desire to return to the Crunch on March 7 and he was called up to the Lightning on April 7 after captain Steven Stamkos was sidelined by a blood clot.
Drouin finished the playoffs third on the Lightning in scoring and rescinded his trade request after Tampa Bay lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ducharme said Drouin is someone who needs to find his comfort level before he can be effective at a higher level of hockey, but once he finds it, he becomes a dangerous player.
"He's a kid that needs to see," Ducharme said. "He's hockey smart, really smart. He needs to feel things out, he needs to see and look, he's learning, and he gets to know how he can be having success, how can he use his tools and his skills. Then when he feels comfortable, once he's on that stage, he's a competitor. He's a guy that wants to win and he showed it again. He did exactly the same with us."
If Drouin's past was similar to what he experienced in Halifax, the Lightning hope his future will be too. In his second season with the Mooseheads in 2012-13, coming off his performance in the previous playoffs, Drouin had 41 goals and 105 points in 49 regular-season games, 35 points in 17 playoff games, and nine points in four games to help Halifax win the 2013 Memorial Cup.
"He was ranked maybe 25th [for the 2013 NHL Draft] when we started the year and he finished [being picked] third," Ducharme said. "I would say he's going to have a great year next season."