Syracuse Crunch fans woke up to an early 2016 present this morning, though understandably not all parties involved are happy about it: Forward Jonathan Drouin has been sent to the Syracuse Crunch. Unlike the last time he made a pass through the AHL in October of 2014, it appears that this time he won't be in Syracuse on a conditioning assignment.
LIGHTNING ASSIGN FORWARD JONATHAN DROUIN TO SYRACUSE
TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning have assigned forward Jonathan Drouin to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Drouin, 20, has played in 19 games for Tampa Bay this season, recording two goals and eight points. The 5-foot-11, 188-pound forward made his return to the ice December 30 against the New York Rangers after missing the previous eight games with a lower-body injury.
Drouin played in 70 games during his rookie season in 2014-15, scoring four goals and adding 28 assists.
Media reactions are still coming in, but the initial news-breaker was Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune. who tweeted the following around 10:15 Saturday morning:
Half an hour later, the Lightning confirmed the transaction, with no mention of a conditioning stint coming from any official outlets. The last time Drouin saw time with the Crunch, he played in two games and totaled a goal and two assists.
It appears as though Drouin is the victim of a numbers game. Tampa Bay had 14 forwards as of this morning with Ondrej Palat back on roster, while the Crunch has been languishing up front. At one point in time before the holiday break, Syracuse was down to just 7 healthy forwards and was regularly rotating defensemen in up front to close the gap. Every other forward on the Lightning roster - including Jonathan Marchessault, who has 11 points in 21 games with the Lightning - is waiver-eligible, which technically left Drouin as the only viable send-down.
However, given the amount of people who seemed surprised by this move, one could wonder if there's an undercurrent here:
Lightning assign Jonathan Drouin to the Syracuse Crunch. Strange he hasn't gotten more of a chance.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) January 2, 2016
#TBLightning Cooper defers questions on Drouin to GM Steve Yzerman. "That's a question for Steve."— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) January 2, 2016
Undercurrent or not, there's no doubt that Drouin will get a ton of ice time with Syracuse, who has scored just 79 total goals this season. Only five AHL teams out of 30 have scored less. Having Drouin on roster is a boon to the sinking Crunch, who had recently managed a small resurrection in their season with the assignment of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy started eight games for Syracuse during the month of December, and helped the Crunch earn nine points during that span.
However, Vasilevskiy was recalled to the Lightning yesterday, while a very cold Kristers Gudlevskis was sent to Syracuse. Gudlevskis hasn't seen a minute of playing time in any league since December 9th. With Syracuse visiting the league-leading Toronto Marlies this weekend, Drouin's offensive capabilities could offset any potential issues with the lack of use Gudlevskis has seen recently:
#TBLightning Yzerman said this is to get Drouin playing time after missing time. Still believes in him. "He's a tremendous young talent."— Joe Smith (@TBTimes_JSmith) January 2, 2016