Cooper still believes Drouin can make Lightning 'a better hockey team'

Reinhold Matay / USA TODAY Sports

It appears there's still a place for Jonathan Drouin in the Tampa Bay Lightning's locker room.

Players and coaches alike reacted Monday to the young forward's trade request, with head coach Jon Cooper maintaining that Drouin's current AHL assignment is designed to get him steady playing time before he returns on the NHL roster.

"Drouin is a part of the Tampa Bay Lightning," Cooper stated, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times. "He was a high draft pick for a reason. We think he can make us a better hockey team."

The 20-year-old's playing time appears to be a central issue of his request, as he's averaged slightly more than 14 minutes per game as a second-year pro. This, after he was regularly scratched during the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final last June, with Cooper openly calling out Drouin's lack of two-way effort.

Still, the third overall pick has averaged 0.45 points per game in very limited ice time, and remains a potential high-end talent.

According to captain Steven Stamkos, the whole thing came out of left field.

"I think guys realize what has gone on since Jonathan has come into the league," Stamkos said. "I can certainly attest to coming in at that age, hoping for the best right away, and wanting certain things that you're accustomed to getting right away, whether you deserve it, whether some coaches give you a chance right away. Every organization, every coach has different view on it.

"You look back on those first two years, if you get through that, and it sucked at the time, but I can speak from experience, it made me a better player, better person, just know how difficult it is in this league and what you have to do, and sometimes the break you get to be successful when you look back and say it was for the best. We're all hoping that's the case for Jo.

"He's still our teammate. He's still a great kid. He's still our friend. Hope he goes down and lights it up and comes back here and help our team. Because he's that type of player. He can make a difference on a nightly basis."

Goaltender Ben Bishop further asserted that Lightning players didn't see the request coming, and hopes it'll be just a blip in Drouin's career in Tampa Bay.

"I fully expect him to be back up here later playing well and we'll probably laugh about this (trade request) later," he said.

For now, Drouin's with the Syracuse Crunch, with general manager Steve Yzerman set to make some hard decisions in the weeks to come.