Drouin Returns to Crunch Practice

By Jeremy Houghtaling

Jonathan Drouin didn’t want to sit out any longer.

The 20-year-old forward returned to Syracuse Crunch practice on Tuesday, nearly two months after leaving the team on a game day in Toronto. After Drouin’s trade demand went public in January, he was assigned to the Crunch and played seven games before heading home to await a move.

Not dealt by the NHL trade deadline, Drouin just wants to get back to playing hockey.

“Obviously, I’m a hockey player and I wanted to play hockey,” Drouin said. “Sitting at home is not what I wanted to do. I wanted to play hockey with the Crunch. We’ll deal with that stuff when the summer comes.”

Drouin had been working out on his own and skating in Montreal with a team at Concordia University. He still anticipates a little rust as he jumps back to the American Hockey League level.

“Summer training in the middle of winter was a little weird, but I had to keep in shape and make sure I was ready,” Drouin said.

Crunch practice Tuesday consisted of compete drills in small areas, something that Drouin wouldn’t get a lot of skating on his own. Syracuse head coach Rob Zettler said he would evaluate Drouin over the next couple days to determine how much and where he gets played over the upcoming three-in-three weekend.

“The only thing he really has to do is go out and work hard on the ice, and show that he wants to be here and show that he wants to get playing again,” Zettler said. “That’s simply the best thing for him to do, and the best thing for everyone involved.”

With the Crunch on a four-game point streak and desperate for points to stay in the playoff hunt, Zettler sees the addition of Drouin like he would any deadline acquisition.

“It essentially happened at the trade deadline,” Zettler said. “The trade deadline was yesterday and we got a new player in, and we have a player that we think can help us as a team. … We know him already and we know what he brings to the table.”

Drouin was assigned to the Crunch on Jan. 2, just a few days after agent Allen Walsh went public with his trade demand. Drouin posted two goals and one assist in seven games with Syracuse in January, but left the team to await a trade and was suspended by the Lightning organization for failing for report to a game on Jan. 20.

Drouin wasn’t dealt at the NHL trade deadline, but Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman made a statement the door was open for Drouin to return.

For Syracuse captain Mike Angelidis, Drouin’s return hasn’t been awkward for the Crunch players.

“I think it’s a unique situation for the team and the organization, but he’s a good guy,” Angelidis said. “He’s been in the organization now for two years, and I was a Black Ace with him last year during the playoffs on Tampa’s run. He’s a good kid, and we got along well. I think he’s really good in the dressing room. He’ll be fine.”

After an impressive junior career with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Drouin was selected third overall in the 2013 draft by the Lightning. The Quebec native posted four goals and 28 assists for 32 points in 70 games with Tampa Bay during his rookie season, but only dressed in six postseason contests on the Lightning’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Reportedly battling nagging injuries, Drouin had been in and out of the Lightning lineup throughout this season, and registered two goals and six assists in 19 games with Tampa Bay.

With the door reportedly still open for a call-up to the Lightning, Drouin knows it will come down to the effort he shows in on the ice.

“It’s going to be up to me to put in the work,” Drouin said. “I’m not just going to get called up to get called up. I have to do the work here.”

Pictured: Crunch forward Jonathan Drouin makes a pass against the Penguins at the Onondaga County War Memorial on Jan. 16.