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Drouin gets assist in first game since January

Suspension lifted, forward gets point for Syracuse in AHL game

by Lindsay Kramer / Correspondent

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- If Jonathan Drouin had to kick off rust or take deep breaths Friday, he hid it well. 

Playing his first game in almost two months, the 20-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect showed his usual bursts of speed and energy for Syracuse in a 5-2 American Hockey League win against Bridgeport at the Onondaga County War Memorial. 

Drouin had an assist and three shots on goal in his first game since Jan. 18. 

"I thought it was good," the forward said. "I just played simple in the beginning. I hadn't played in a while, so I was a little rusty, my legs were getting a little heavy at one point. But as the game went on I thought I was better and better. 

"It's just getting back into it, getting that feeling back when you get the puck, stuff like that. I'm sure it's going to be better tomorrow as well." 

Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, did not report for Syracuse's game on Jan. 20, after his demotion and a trade request made in November became public. He practiced with the Crunch four times this week and then jumped back into what looked like midseason form against the Sound Tigers. 

"Energy-wise, he seemed fine. Skating-wise, he seemed fine," Syracuse coach Rob Zettler said. "He didn't seem to be short-shifting at all. I thought he made some good plays, set up some teammates. He was working hard down low too." 

Drouin nearly deflected a pass from linemate Tye McGinn for a goal, but Bridgeport goalie Christopher Gibson slid left to right to make the save. Drouin later dangled through the Sound Tigers defense to get a clean look from the slot before shooting into Gibson's chest. 

Drouin's third shot, from the left circle, was kicked into traffic by Gibson. The puck hit the leg of Syracuse defenseman Luke Witkowski and went into the net. 

"He had some good chances, some good looks on net," Zettler said of Drouin. "I was able to spread him out enough where he was taking a regular shift. I think he'll get even [better] as we roll along here. He hasn't played for two months. He's just going to keep getting better and better." 

Drouin played left wing, where he played for most of his two seasons with the Lightning. When he joined the Crunch on Jan. 8, Zettler used him at center. 

"We wanted to see how he would do at center, create some more speed down the middle," Zettler said this week. "I didn't love it. I just thought, you know what? He's been playing wing for the last two years. Let's get him into a position where he can most help us, where he's comfortable, and go from there. 

"The biggest factor, to me, was he's been playing wing for most of two years now. And that's where he's used to playing. And he's probably going to have his most success there. So, we'll just stick with that for now." 

Drouin skated with center Matt Peca and right wing McGinn. 

"It's good. Playing left wing is more natural to me a little bit," Drouin said. "It's definitely a good first game with our line." 

Peca said, "He looked like the same Jonathan. He moves his feet really well. He's a very energetic player. He gets in on pucks real quick and it didn't look like he missed any time. You could tell that there was a little more freedom for him to kind of get open and use his speed (as a wing). It's good that he has that freedom, and I enjoyed being on his line tonight. So I'm sure he'll be a really good player." 

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he wanted to deal Drouin prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, but he did not. Afterward, Yzerman said if Drouin plays well for Syracuse, he could be recalled to Tampa Bay. 

Representatives from Washington, Philadelphia, Arizona (two), Ottawa, Minnesota, Toronto and Columbus were listed in attendance Friday. 

"It's part of how it is right now," Drouin said. "I'm just trying to play. They're here. I'm sure they're here to watch. But it doesn't change the way I play or anything."

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