With his rookie season behind him, the question of whether forward Jonathan Drouin will be an impact player for the Tampa Bay Lightning early in his professional career is still up for debate.
Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, was 10th on the Lightning with 32 points in 70 games while playing 13:14 per game as a rookie last season. He was a healthy scratch for 20 of Tampa Bay's 26 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had no points in the six games he played in, averaging 10:02 per game.
"Definitely I have a little chip on my shoulder training this summer and going into training camp," Drouin told NHL.com in a phone interview from Montreal on Tuesday.
How that chip manifests itself will go a long way in determining how big Drouin's impact will be this season on the Lightning, who expect him to use the experience he gained through the adversity he faced last season as a way to improve himself so he can prove himself.
Unlike last season, Drouin will be eligible to be sent to the American Hockey League this season because he is now 20 years old. A lot would have to go wrong for him to be with the Syracuse Crunch on opening night, especially because Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman seems more confident in Drouin now than he was before watching him handle the adversity last season.
"I try not to use clichés and this probably is a cliché, but adversity builds character," Yzerman said. "He handled a really difficult situation. He's a young man who just wants to play. That's all he wants to do is play. He practiced hard. He worked hard in the gym. He studied. He learned a lot. He's chomping at the bit to play.
"You learn more playing than not playing, but that was our situation. We were not allowed to send him to the American League. Our coach has to make difficult decisions throughout the course of the season on a daily basis. For Jonathan, being in the NHL, being around the pros, he still played a fair number of games and he got a little bit of ice time in the playoffs, it's all good experience for him. He'll be better next year because his attitude is I'm going to make it no matter what and I'm going to be a good player no matter what. He's got the right attitude."
And the chip on his shoulder. Don't forget that.
Drouin said he's had it since he was a 17-year-old coming off his first season of junior hockey with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He had 29 points in 33 games as a QMJHL rookie and although it was obvious that his place on the team was secure, he felt he needed a strong training camp to prove he belonged.
He had 105 points in 46 games in his second season with Halifax. He had 108 points in 49 games in his third season, after the Lightning opted to send him back to juniors instead of keeping him in the NHL as an 18-year-old.
"You want to make sure you earn your spot and there's nobody that can grab your spot," Drouin said.
That same attitude is driving his motivation as he prepares for his third training camp with the Lightning. The prospect of the AHL, although seemingly remote at this time, is looming.
"Nobody wants to go to the AHL," Drouin said. "That's not what I'm thinking about right now. I'm thinking about making the team and making more of an impact. Last year a lot of people said it wasn't my greatest year, but I gained a lot, I learned a lot, and I'm definitely more ready going into the season, into training camp."
Yzerman said Drouin will be given a long leash and a great opportunity to be an impact player for the Lightning this season. Drouin is confident he'll get it from Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper because he insists their relationship is strong despite rumors to the contrary late last season.
"Coop's a good guy," Drouin said. "I think he's a great player's coach. We understand each other. He's easy to understand during the year. There was no conflict or anything during the playoffs or the regular season. I think we're on good terms."
Drouin said he feels he's prepared to do establish himself as a regular in Cooper's lineup, possibly a regular in the Lightning's top-six forward group, because of what he learned last season, including the importance of every shift he's given.
He admittedly struggled with having his minutes cut in half from his last season in junior hockey to his first season in the NHL. Drouin said in junior hockey he knew he could take a shift or two off and still be fine. He learned the hard way that that isn't the case in the NHL.
"It's a learning process and at the end of the season I was better at that, but my goal isn't to be playing eight to 11 minutes for the rest of my career," Drouin said.
If that's all he's earning early next season, he might very well find himself in the AHL. Drouin is motivated to make sure that doesn't happen. Yzerman is confident it won't.
"You watch him, he's very quiet, extremely determined, confident, and he's a student of the game," Yzerman said. "He's going to be fine. I've said that before and I really believe it."