Some fans were hoping he would be the next coming of French-Canadian Lightning greats like Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Maybe, just maybe he would be 21st century version of Jari Kurri, helping his center with a billion assists, all the while scoring 30-40 goals a season.
It didn't exactly happen.
In the first 70 games of his NHL career, Drouin registered 4 goals and 32 points. Now while 32 points certainly isn't bad for a rookie (especially compared to former Lightning 1st round picks), some NHL insiders and media personalities looked at it as a disappointment, considering how well Drouin performed in the QMJHL and internationally for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Add to it his healthy-scrachings in the 2015 NHL playoffs and murmurs of "bust" could be heard, and rumors of issues between Drouin and head coach Jon Cooper.
Well, it is a new season, and by all accounts, it's a new Drouin.
Through 4 games, Drouin has 4 points, including 2 goals against Philadelphia on opening night. Even though it's jokingly unrealistic to imagine how many points this young winger might finish with, he is on pace for 82 at this rate (41 goals, 41 assists).
Drouin admitted (published in ESPN Insider) that last season he was perhaps a little timid and maybe a little uncomfortable.
"I think last year when you look, you’re a little nervous -- not nervous, but you don’t know everything that’s going on," Drouin told ESPN's Craig Custance on Tuesday. "It takes a bit of time. This year, I feel more comfortable with our players, the league, everything. I’m starting to know the players on the other team a little better and the way they play and it definitely helps."
Over the offseason, Drouin worked on his game, making himself stronger, and trying to improve upon a season where he didn't think he performed up to NHL standards. He definitely heard the criticisms NHL analysts had about his game, and used that motivation to help break through.
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will Jonathan Drouin's NHL career be constructed that quickly. But as Craig Custance points out in his article, Drouin's teammates are much more impressed in the way that he doesn't rush the puck, and he is making the right plays in practice. He is playing a more complete game, which makes teammates like Matt Carle take notice.
"He has so much poise over on the half wall," Carle told Custance. "You think you’re pressuring him to force him to do something and he’ll sit there and hang on to it, knowing that a defenseman is not going to come out all the way to him. Whereas before, he might try to rush it a little bit and make a play through a guy."
BS Fantasy Sports expects an improvement from Drouin in 2015-16.
"His talent has been undeniable, but a lot of owners came away from last season disappointed with his performance (four goals, 28 assists in 70 games). We don't expect Drouin to be a point-per-game player this season, but we do expect a significant jump in his production. The cup runneth over for the talent-laden Bolts."
Former NHL player Bobby Smith, who owns the Halifax Mooseheads (Drouin's QMJHL team) thinks the youngster is in for a breakout.
"You're going to see a lot more like that — enjoy," Smith told Tampa Bay.com. "Think it's going to be a breakout season for Jo."
A glaring endorsement.
In a season where Tampa Bay is highly poised for contention, a solid and consistent increase in Jonathan Drouin's production will do nothing but help this club as it tries to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions. If Drouin stays healthy, his line stays healthy, and his blue line defends him properly, there's no reason why he can't get 60 points this year. It would be a tremendous improvement from last season and another step taken in becoming the great NHL forward he's been expected to become for a long time.