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2015 NHL Playoffs: Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning's 4th line problem

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Jonathan Drouin has still only played a single game in the playoffs, while the fourth line of the Tampa Bay Lightning continues to be used very sparingly.

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Rookie Jonathan Drouin has drawn into exactly one game in these NHL playoffs: Game 4 in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings.

He skated 8:42 and was -2. The Wings fired four shots on Ben Bishop with Drouin on the ice; 2 of them went into the net.

This was the first:

See Drouin in that highlight? No, you probably missed him. That's because he's the last guy to enter the frame after the goal is scored. He had just come onto the ice on a change and had zero chance to impact the play whatsoever. He gets saddled with a minus nonetheless.

The second goal, well, nobody deserves to be criticized for their defensive play for giving this up:

That one, like the Montreal Canadiens' lone goal in Game 1 of the second round series, rests solely on Ben Bishop. This isn't a long apology for Jonathan Drouin's plus/minus, however; it's just to illustrate the rotten luck he had in the one game Jon Cooper decided he might be able to help.

All of that, coupled with the fact that he hasn't played in the playoffs before or since, has led to stuff like this from even the most reserved, cold-take hockey journalists:

The frustrating thing is to look at the guys that are getting into the lineup -- particularly the 4th line -- and try to build an argument that Cooper somehow trusts them. Brenden Morrow, who skated north of 9 minutes a game in the regular season, is under 8 in the playoffs. So are his regular linemates Vlad Namestnikov and J.T. Brown. Cooper has shifted his forward group either to an 11F-7D formation or switched to a three-line team if he's using 12 forwards.

In over 82 minutes of hockey in the double overtime win over the Habs in game 1, Morrow took only 8 shifts. 8! That's one shift every ten minutes of hockey game. He's not being used as a defensive specialist, or a penalty killer, or an energy/grind line guy, or even as an enforcer. His tangible contributions to the game of hockey so far in these playoffs amount to two shots on goal and two minor penalties in 7 games. He's a total non factor being buried by Cooper and only used when there is absolutely no other option.

It makes sense that Cooper doesn't want to use an offensive player in a limited/defensive role, which is a common excuse given for continually healthy scratching Drouin. And, fair enough, he's not suited to doing what a traditional bottom-6 does. But Tampa Bay's fourth line isn't doing that anyways; Vlad Namestnikov, though occasionally feisty, is not a 4th line grinder, and neither is J.T. Brown when you get right down to it. They, with Nikita Kucherov, were two thirds of a damn good top unit in the AHL not too long ago that scored in bunches. If you're going to limit ice time and shelter the bottom of your forward group, why not get a player in there who can make something happen in open ice? Cooper has had plenty of success mixing his role players with young offensive studs in the past; Nikita Kucherov played almost 250 5v5 minutes with Nate Thompson last season, for example.

Cooper's 4th line hasn't been a shutdown unit in some time, so why are we pretending like Jonathan Drouin would be a liability if he were to skate there?

On top of that, Drouin's defensive shortcomings, particularly in these playoffs, have been drastically overstated. And ultimately, he cannot be any worse than Brenden Morrow and his offensive upside is many times more than Morrow's; Drouin scored 1.95 points per/60 minutes of 5v5 time in the regular season while Morrow was down at 0.76. Drouin would also reasonably give you another option to perhaps improve a stagnant power play that hasn't scored since Game 2 vs. Detroit and is 2/34 in the playoffs.

If all you're replacing is some spare even strength minutes -- no penalty kill time, no faceoffs, no pugilism, no line-matching or shutdown duties -- why not give them to a guy who can actually do something with them?