- Craig Custance
It would have to start with an upset. Jonathan Drouin and his Halifax Mooseheads swept their way through the first round of the QMJHL playoffs in convincing fashion, outscoring Charlottetown 28-8. In those four games, Drouin racked up an impressive 13 points.
Halifax, the defending Memorial Cup champ, is the favorite in Round 2 against Gatineau, but this is hockey and upsets do happen. Let’s say Drouin’s season ends earlier than expected and he becomes available to the Tampa Bay Lightning as the playoffs get ready to begin.
It would make for some interesting decision-making in Tampa when you consider how well Drouin’s contemporaries from the 2013 draft have played. Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 overall pick and former Drouin teammate, is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy, looking every bit like a potential franchise center. Until he got hurt, Aleksander Barkov more than held his own, with a big NHL frame that gave the Florida Panthers an interesting young center duo in Barkov and Nick Bjugstad.
Drouin is as skilled as any of them, and his point production in the QMJHL suggests he’s more than ready to graduate. In 46 regular-season games, Drouin finished with 29 goals and 79 assists for 108 points.
One NHL amateur scout saw him recently and left impressed that Drouin has put the disappointment of not making the Lightning this season in the past.
“I was expecting to see a little pit of pout,” he said. “It wasn’t there at all. ... He looked good. He was good in all facets.”
Halifax is a heavy favorite to continue its playoff run, but if an upset happens, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman essentially has three options.
One, he can do nothing. Let Drouin prepare for next season's training camp, where he should be ready to make the Lightning.
Two, he could sign him to a professional tryout deal with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse and let Drouin get a taste of professional hockey without the pressure of the NHL playoffs.
Three, he could bring him to Tampa, where he could immediately join practices and be an offensive option for Jon Cooper and his team in the postseason. He could do that without burning a year on his entry-level deal too.
It’s not an ideal environment to make your NHL debut, and Yzerman’s decision in the preseason to send him back to Halifax suggests the Lightning will be conservative in their development of the No. 3 overall pick.
But still, it’s an enticing option when you see highlight reels of behind-the-back passes Drouin makes in setting up teammates. With Martin St. Louis now in New York, it wouldn’t hurt to have another weapon at Cooper’s disposal.