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Jonathan Drouin has switched sides

While playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL before being drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jonathan Drouin was a left winger. After the draft, he was returned to Halifax and played center to help him develop his defensive responsibilities as much as is possible for a highly talented, offensively gifted forward in Canadian Major Junior Hockey. When he came in with the Lightning in 2014-15, he played the majority of his time at left wing, often forcing natural left winger’s to the right side so the highly touted young player could take his preferred spot.

During the 2015-16 preseason, Drouin immediately slotted in on the left wing for center Steven Stamkos and right wing Ryan Callahan before being moved to lower lines. Drouin still was being slotted on the left side. When he was reassigned to Syracuse, he got assigned to center for the Crunch before shifting back to the left wing. He was mostly on the left wing when he returned from his hiatus.

Things have changed since returning to the Lightning for the last two regular season games and now through the playoffs: He’s been playing right wing, being paired with Ondrej Palat on the left wing and Valtteri Filppula at center. At times, Alex Killorn has been on the line in place of Palat.

More of Drouin’s point contributions have been coming on the power play, but he has contributed a goal and two assists at even strength in the playoffs. Both assists were also primary assists. Could we be seeing the next evolution in Drouin’s game by his shift to the right wing? There are two notable players in recent team history that fit a similar mold offensive talent and left handed but excelled on the right wing. Martin St. Louis and Nikita Kucherov.

When Drouin was drafted in 2013, St. Louis was obviously a big part of what everyone saw in him. He was a smaller forward, but he was quick, he had great hands, and he was an excellent passer with a good enough shot to find the back of the net pretty consistently. Kucherov and St. Louis are far from the only players that have excelled under these conditions in the NHL either.

For most wingers, the preference is to play on your natural side; that is left wing for left handers and right wing for right handers. Part of that is how your stick is positioned when you’re in the zone. Part of that is the angles to the goalie when you’re taking a shot. Part of that is your positioning in the defensive zone.

What moving to the opposite side does is that it opens up a lot more angles to feed the puck to the other side of the ice and it creates a different shooting angle coming down the wing on the goalie when you’re looking for a shot. It particularly works well in being able to protect the puck and gain position on a defending player while still having the ability to pass across the ice either to a right-handed player waiting for a one-timer (Stamkos) or a left hander ready to tap it in or wrist it home (Palat).

For much of this season, when Lightning head coach Jon Cooper wasn’t messing around with Stamkos by putting him on the right wing, it felt like the Lightning lacked a secondary top six option at the position. Ryan Callahan took a big step back this season, not producing offensively the way he had previously while he was contributing like usual in all the other ways he normally has. Nikita Kucherov was having an excellent year and was clearly the best right winger on the team.Jonathan Marchessault filled in from time to time, but in reality, he is just a fill-in and is not suited for a full time top six spot for a long period of time.

Now with Drouin in the mix on the right side, your right wing depth chart when fully healthy goes Kucherov, Drouin, Callahan, J.T. Brown, Erik Condra. On the left side it goes Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette. Your center depth chart, without Stamkos, goes Tyler Johnson, Valtteri Filppula, Vladislav Namestnikov, Brian Boyle. The team has some flexibility in there in that Brown can play left wing on the third or fourth line. Condra can play left win on the fourth line. Killorn can flip to either side if needed. Paquette is a fill in defensive line center. Namestnikov can play left wing in the top nine to provide offense. Boyle can also shift to the wing when necessary on the third or fourth line. Add Steven Stamkos into the center mix and you’re talking about a pretty solid forward corps.

If Stamkos is able to make it back during the playoffs (or next season if he’s re-signed), and assuming that J.T. Brown is healed up by or around the same time as him, the forward line up could look something like this. Tell me if that makes you happy.

Alex Killorn Steven Stamkos Jonathan Drouin
Ondrej Palat Tyler Johnson Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Brown Valtteri Filppula Ryan Callahan
Brian Boyle Cedric Paquette Erik Condra

Does this forward line up make you happy?

Yes 430
No 27
I don’t know what this makes me feel 45