There's no single, definitive answer to that question. Drouin has played in 19 of the Lightning's first 39 games, and was assigned to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch on Saturday. Walsh released the statement on Sunday, and there's some question as to whether Drouin will report to Syracuse for his reassignment. Personally, he'd be ill-advised not to report. If he goes to Syracuse and dominates, it makes his value higher and more teams will inquire as to a trade.
According to head coach Jon Cooper, his absence in the lineup was a case of injuries and being the odd-man out in a numbers game when he was ready to return, and sending him to Syracuse was a way for him to get more minutes to get himself back into the Lightning lineup.
"Jonathan Drouin is an NHLer... he just got caught in a situation where he's been, literally, hurt for almost three months," Cooper told Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald. "He comes back for a few games and then he's out. He's never been able to get his stride, say, where he was at at the end of training camp. The second thing is, we kind of got all our guys back at the same time. We’ve been hurt for so long but he was one of the guys that was hurt.
"When he's one of the last guys to come back, it's hard to start putting guys in the lineup and giving them good minutes... this is a situation where we could get him minutes and get him back."
Any coach and player will tell you that a player shouldn't lose a roster spot due to injury, but Drouin's lengthy absence combined with other players coming off injuries created a logjam where the Lightning - sitting in sixth-place in the Atlantic Division - need NHL-ready bodies. As Cooper stated above, going to Syracuse was a chance to fast-forward his return to the Lightning lineup. Drouin and Walsh, however, feel differently about the assignment.
Walsh, in his statement, wrote,
On behalf of Jonathan Drouin, I formally requested a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning back in November. We have not said one word about this untenable situation publicly until today. It's in everyone's best interests that Jonathan be allowed to move on and play hockey. Let's be clear, Jonathan loves playing for the fans in Tampa, he loves his teammates and many people within the Lightning organization have treated him well. It was his sincere intention to play in Tampa for many years.There have been comparisons to the other top-ten draft picks in that 2013 NHL Entry Draft where Drouin was taken third-overall. Of those ten picks, only Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers has played less games. Only Nurse and Vancouver's Bo Horvat have less points to this point in their careers.
However, if we're looking at left wingers, he's the highest scoring left-winger in that draft class to this point. Of the seven forwards taken in the top-ten of the 2013 NHL Draft, his point-per-game total is fourth-highest, training only Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, and Sean Monahan. It's not like he hasn't produced when in the lineup, but he can't be in the lineup if he's injured.
Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has a bit of a conundrum on his hands. From the sounds of it, head coach Jon Cooper likes Drouin as a player, and his teammates seem to appreciate him in the dressing room and on the ice. If he's been available since November, though, it's pretty clear that Yzerman is in no rush to move him until the right deal comes along for the Lightning. With Walsh having released his statement, expect Yzerman to proceed with even more caution when it comes to suitors for Drouin at this time.
Yzerman, before he got to Tampa Bay, was a disciple of Ken Holland, and it's pretty clear that the Red Wings like their prospects to put their time in at the AHL level before getting their chances with the NHL club. While I'm not saying that Yzerman is setting up the same situation in Tampa Bay, there have been many good young players who cut their teeth in the AHL with Norfolk and Syracuse before arriving as complete players with the Lightning.
Perhaps that's what the message is here: go to Syracuse, use this time to get your hands and legs back, dominate that league for a few weeks, and we'll bring you back when you're NHL-ready. Of course, that opportunity might just happen with a different team after Walsh's statement was released to the public if enough of a bounty is offered to Yzerman.
Ain't life a beach in Tampa Bay?
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!