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Analysis: Lightning should call up Drouin

Tampa Bay may bring back 21-year-old forward with Stamkos out

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Maybe by now, Tampa Bay Lightning players, coaches and executives have had enough time to process the fact that captain Steven Stamkos may have played his last game for them.

It was announced Saturday that Stamkos will miss at least one and possibly as many as three months after he undergoes surgery Monday to treat a blood clot near his right collarbone.

And, with that in mind, maybe the same group of people within the Lightning has had enough time to process the fact that 21-year-old forward Jonathan Drouin could actually be a significant part of the team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and for years to come.

Video: Yzerman on Drouin and his performance

Farfetched two months ago, these are real possibilities now.

Moreover, once Drouin is healthy (he's day-to-day with a lower-body injury), the Lightning should give him another chance to see what their future could look like with him and without Stamkos, just in case that's how it plays out down the road.

Think about what has to happen for Stamkos to play another game in a Lightning uniform:

1) He would have to heal on the shorter side of the recovery time period given, and the Lightning would have to make it to the Eastern Conference Second Round, possibly the conference final, without their best player and one of their most important defenseman, Anton Stralman, who is out 4-6 weeks with a fractured left leg.

And make no mistake, the loss of Stralman is just as crushing as losing Stamkos, if not more because of his role as a top-pair defenseman who plays in all situations.

Video: TBL@DAL: Stamkos nets a pair of goals

2) Stamkos would have to forgo his earned right to become an unrestricted free agent or re-sign with the Lightning on July 1 or after.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman continues to smartly say he hopes to get Stamkos signed, but it's rare to find a player of his magnitude get this close to unrestricted free agency without being pulled into the feeding frenzy. It's also rare that a player returns to his team once he reaches that point. The other options become too enticing.

The safer play is to bet against Stamkos playing again for the Lightning.

That was true for Drouin earlier this season, when his agent went public with his trade request after he was demoted to the minors. Eighteen days later, he was suspended for failing to show up for a game with Syracuse of the American Hockey League.

Yzerman, though, said Saturday he's considering recalling Drouin to replace Stamkos on the roster. Drouin sat out Syracuse's game Sunday, but that shouldn't change Yzerman's thinking provided Drouin's injury isn't serious. Drouin could be part of the antidote to losing Stamkos, both to injury now and later to free agency.

He was finding his game in the AHL before sitting out against Utica on Sunday; he scored in five straight games and had nine goals, including five on the power play, in 10 games since returning from his suspension. He was suspended for one game for missing a pre-practice meeting, a result of an alarm clock malfunction, Drouin said.

His minus-8 rating in these past 10 games is a red flag, as is the transgression for missing the meeting, but overall Drouin has done what Yzerman hoped he would do when the Lightning sent him to Syracuse on Jan. 2.

Drouin is playing, scoring, and a Lightning source said the reports on him from the coaching staff in Syracuse are that he has been a good teammate.

Before Drouin left Tampa Bay, he was playing on the fourth line, unable to crack the top nine after returning from injury. That shouldn't be the case if he returns for the playoffs.

The devil's advocate will say what Drouin did earlier in the season was inexcusable and bringing him back now, in time for the playoffs, would be sending a terrible signal to the rest of the team that they can get away with whatever they want and still get to play in important games

The problem with that argument is if Drouin can help the Lightning win, his past transgressions become meaningless.

Stamkos is out of Tampa Bay's lineup, maybe for the rest of the season, possibly forever. The upcoming playoffs are the best chance for the Lightning to see if they can salvage Drouin.

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