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Jonathan Drouin's impact not deep enough for some critics

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie forward Jonathan Drouin has drawn some criticism recently for failing to reach lofty expectations for the 19-year old. Is this fair?

Kara Johnson

Jonathan Drouin is having a great rookie season at only 19 years of age.

Don't listen to anyone who would tell you any different.

Sure, the point totals aren't gaudy. 18 points (...with but a measly pair of goals! Gasp!) in 37 games isn't impressing more than a few folks who peddle opinions in the mainstream for a living.

Check Yahoo! Puck Daddy head honcho Greg Wyshynski, who stated flatly in early January when rosters were announced that Drouin (who would go on to win the weekend's Fastest Skater competition) didn't belong in the All-Star Game:

But hey, at least Jonathan "2 goals in 33 games and a squadared [sic] chance at the Calder" Drouin made the cut.

Or Tampa Tribune columnist Martin Fennelly, whose latest is headlined "Lightning's Drouin hasn't lived up to the hype."

Of course, any columnist will be quick to hide behind the "I don't write the headlines" shield, but the headline is what it is because Fennelly's main assertion is that Drouin has underperformed.

Let's first examine a major element in this line of thinking that Drouin detractors seem to be missing or unwilling to admit -- the media hype for this kid was absurd. Many in the media had unrealistic expectations of Drouin's destiny next to Steven Stamkos, scoring 70 points and running away with the Calder Trophy without any setbacks or obstacles along the way. He's a super prospect, after all, and development means nothing and every guy who has ever scored 100+ points in junior lights the NHL on fire as a teenager.

Right?

Somehow not meeting this "hype" is a failure attributed to a 19-year old kid that should instead be attributed to media types who expected way too much way too soon and ignored all past precedent with the Lightning organization.

Anyone paying attention who has closely followed how the Tampa Bay Lightning do business under Steve Yzerman saw this type of year coming from Drouin and isn't fazed by it now. One such person even writes for this website. From the Lightning Bloggers' Roundtable in September 2014, when asked who the ‘breakout star' for the Bolts would be this season:

The easy and obvious answer is super prospect Jonathan Drouin, who is poised to win a spot in the top-6 with the Lightning and compete for the Calder Trophy. That said, my own viewings of him are limited, and while the numbers are all good, he will be adjusting on the fly to the pace and rigor of the professional game and schedule.

So a measured, reasonable expectation for Drouin's production with the Lightning as a 19-year old was possible after all.

But -- even ruling out media hype as a factor in this debate -- both Wyshynski and Fennelly miss the forest for the trees and evaluate Drouin's play in an embarrassingly cursory fashion. "Only two goals" is a specific detail you can use to criticize Drouin's NHL debut season, but harping on just that one detail is shallow and myopic. Lacking proper context, Drouin (truly, any player) can be made to look like he's underperforming. But there's always context that pundits will ignore in the name of broad stroke criticism; context like Drouin spending most of his 5v5 minutes with fellow rookies Cedric Paquette and Vlad Namestnikov; like Drouin's own playstyle, favoring playmaking over shooting; or the fact that he's shooting 4.9% on the year (3.23% if you count missed shots) lowest among Lightning regulars by a mile and likely well below his true talent level.

There are also skills Drouin brings to the Bolts that won't show up on NHL.com (at least not yet). He's a plus possession player. Most of his regular linemates see better control of the puck at even strength when he's on the ice. He's racked up a tremendous amount of scoring chance set-ups -- passes that led directly to a scoring chance for someone else. And he's among the Lightning's best forwards at gaining the offensive zone with control of the puck.

Unfortunately, the same folks that bemoan the lack of production from Drouin are unaware or ignorant of these facets of his game. Drouin, in spite of his draft pedigree, is getting the same treatment that every young player brought up through the Yzerman regime has been getting: careful, measured deployment on the lower lines and the occasional scratch. If he were the right age it's possible Drouin might have even spent some time down in the AHL beyond his October conditioning stint.

But this is anything but an indictment of the player. Rather, it's a consequence of a healthy and strong forward group built in Tampa Bay. There's a difference between "hasn't lived up to the hype" and "has played well with the limited opportunities earned so far in his very short NHL career". Folding in passages like the following:

Did you remember that Jonathan Drouin doesn't turn 20 until March?
Everyone wants things to happen right away.
Life doesn't usually work that way. No matter how fast you skate.

Doesn't undo the tone and argument of the piece as a whole.

Jonathan Drouin is having a great rookie season. He's rounding out his game and, if you're willing to look just a bit under the surface, actually producing at a very high rate. His overall point totals are suppressed by factors outside his control: some poor shooting luck, low ice time due to a stacked Lightning forward group, and similarly young and still-learning rookies as linemates.

Jonathan Drouin "isn't living up to the hype". Just make sure you blame the hype -- not the 19-year old playing 13 minutes a night and still scoring a half-point per game.