Faced with the unexpected predicament of choosing between a potential franchise defenseman in Seth Jones or dynamic scoring machine Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman went with the latter.
“I didn’t really expect to, but in the past couple days we were hearing rumblings of that possibility and that we’d have to make a decision,” Yzerman said. “Every team has their own list. We all look for different things. What we like in Jonathan Drouin, his hockey sense, we really liked his competitiveness, skill, level of skating. We liked everything about his game. We liked Seth Jones, too.”
With the third overall pick in the draft, the Lightning opted to add another spark plug to its potent offense, adding Drouin, the CHL’s reigning player of the year.
After the Colorado Avalanche selected Nathan MacKinnon, Drouin’s teammate from the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and the Florida Panthers chose Finland’s Aleksander Barkov, Drouin’s nerves kicked in.
He didn’t have to wait long, though.
“It was pretty nerve-racking,” Drouin said. “Obviously you’re sitting there with your family. The first two picks are going. Tampa was a team I wanted to go to, and when Steve [Yzerman] said my name, it was probably the best feeling ever.”
Yzerman acknowledges defense is particularly troublesome for the Lightning. Tampa Bay ranked 26th in goals against last season, giving up an average of 3.06 per game. But in building for the future, he wanted to stick with the best-player-available mentality.
“When you’re rating players, you have to rate somebody one, somebody two, somebody three,” Yzerman said. “We had Jonathan ahead of Seth.”
The Lightning viewed Drouin’s skill set as too good to pass up. Scouts have compared the winger to Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Sakic, citing his puckhandling, vision and hockey sense as elite. Those characteristics showed this past season as Drouin, who appeared in 49 games, registered 105 points.
“Joe was a great player. I don’t compare myself to Joe, really,” Drouin said. “We’ll see … Maybe in 20 years.”
Drouin sees himself as more of a Claude Giroux-type, although Yzerman sees some similarities with his former rival.
“To me, Joe Sakic really darted and really shot the puck, an explosive wrist shot off the rush,” Yzerman said. “I see Jonathan more as a playmaker pulling up looking for guys coming late. There are some similarities. The build is very similar.”
The real temptation in adding Drouin, though, comes in the idea of pairing the 18-year-old with former 60-goal scorer Steven Stamkos.
“Coaches will ultimately decide where guys play,” Yzerman said. “Certainly, the way he plays, his style of play, you would think he could potentially complement playing on a line with Stammer.”
It may require time before that pairing comes to fruition. Although other teams rated Drouin as NHL ready, the Lightning are in no rush to force Drouin into their lineup.
Even Drouin suggests he might need a little time, mainly to add weight to his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame. He’s already working on that through training and diet and has added about four pounds in the past two to three weeks.
Still, he is excited about the opportunity he’ll get in playing with one of the league’s top offenses, especially the prospect of playing with Stamkos.
“You can’t ask for a better guy to finish and put the puck in the net,” Drouin said of Stamkos. “I don’t know what they’re expecting. I’ll just try to make the team there.”