Jonathan Drouin is a uniquely talented player. No one who has watched him play more than a few minutes can question that. He has the speed and the hands to have a long career as a top line winger. Despite his talent, he struggled to find a place in the stacked Lightning forward rotation during both 2014-15 and early this season.
When the Lightning reassigned Drouin to the team's AHL affiliate in early January under the auspices of getting him more playing time, Shortly after reassignment, Drouin went public with a trade demand he made behind closed doors in November. He played just seven games before walking out on the Syracuse Crunch and for nearly two months while suspended by Tampa for his walkout, Drouin stayed home. After the trade deadline passed without the Lightning acquiescing to the trade demand, Drouin made amends and returned to the Crunch in March. He spent four weeks in Syracuse and scored 9 goals in 10 games.
The fact the Bolts were hobbled as the season came to a close, losing Steven Stamkos and the hobbling of other key offensive players such as Nikita Kucherov, led the club to recall Drouin. He promptly scored in the final two games of the regular season and has been one of the most dynamic players for Tampa Bay through the first round of the playoffs.
The following charts compare Drouin's performance in the NHL this season before his suspension to after the suspension. Keep in mind that the sample sizes are relatively small. He played 19 games before the suspension and seven games after. Of the seven games after the suspension, two were in the regular season and the other five were in the first round of the playoffs against the Red Wings.
The top chart shows his CF60 (Corsi For per 60 minutes of ice time), CF% (Corsi For Percentage) and his xGF% (Expected Goals For Percentage) during both time frames. Drouin's numbers have clearly improved in all three metrics since returning to the team after the suspension. The Lightning are generating more shots overall as well as a higher percentage of the shots with Drouin on the ice and that leads to a better expected goals percentage. Essentially, Tampa is outplaying the opposition comfortably when Drouin is on the ice.
The bottom charts show Drouin's rate stats since returning. He is scoring more points, primary points (goals and primary assists) and goals per 60 minutes of ice time than he was earlier in the season. The Lightning also have a higher number of expected goals with him on the ice than they did prior to the suspension.
Clearly, Drouin is seeing better results since his return and the Lightning look better with him on the ice than they did during the early part of the season. The next set of charts looks at Drouin's performance relative to the other Lightning forwards since his return.
The charts above are all colored by time on ice. A dark blue indicates that the player has spent more time on the ice in the seven games since Drouin returned while a dark red indicates that he has spent less. The key takeaway here is that Drouin is in the top half of Tampa forward corps in all of the metrics since his return. He's fourth in CF% behind the new Johnson/Kucherov/Killorn line. He's second in on-ice CF60, third in xGF% and fifth in both goals per sixty minutes and primary points per sixty minutes. To put it succinctly, he is playing like a top six forward and potentially a top three forward since his return.
No one can replace Steven Stamkos but if Drouin can continue to put up points at this pace, that would be a huge help for the Lightning in filling that gap. He has even given the power play a spark with his creative passing and turned one of the Lightning's biggest liabilities during the regular season into a unit capable of scoring all three goals for Tampa in their game four win in Detroit. No matter how the rest of playoffs go, Drouin and the Bolts front office will have questions to answer in the offseason. But for now, the former third overall draft pick is giving a glimpse of just how high his ceiling is.
All data was collected from corsica.hockey. The expected goals stat cited was created by the founder of the site, Emmanuel Perry. An explainer on it can be found here. A glossary for all of the other stats used in this article can be found at war-on-ice.com.