It’s safe to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning have endured a tumultuous 2015-2016 season. After making it to the Stanley Cup Final last season, they’ve needed a recent seven-game winning streak to push them into the wild-card spots. Steven Stamkos is without a contract this offseason and will command a lot more than the Lightning’s reported eight year, $68 million initial offer. But the most unanticipated and attention-grabbing saga of the Lightning’s season this year has been their relationship with Jonathan Drouin. After being drafted third overall in the 2013 draft, the left-winger has grown discontent with the lack of minutes he’s garnered this season. Moreover, he and his agent have formally requested a trade away from Amalie Arena. Rumors have been rampant for weeks now that Buffalo may be involved in trade talks for Drouin. As a young player with tremendous upside, should the Sabres take a chance on the attitude-prone youngster? Here I’ll analyze the pros and cons of a potential trade to Buffalo.
Upside: There’s a reason Drouin was taken so early in the draft. His junior hockey league numbers were astounding, including a final season with the Halifax Mooseheads where he put up 108 points in only 46 games. That capped a successful junior career that made him a highly touted prospect. As well, he’s only 20 years old. If the Sabres acquired him, they would add to their stable of high-ceiling young players that include Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen. He could potentially combine with them to make a spectacular core of players for multiple years.
Asking Price: There hasn’t been a time where the price to acquire a highly regarded young player has been so low since the Nail Yukapov incident a few years ago. A player of his potential would usually cost an NHL-proven talent and a high-end prospect or draft pick. A similar comparison could be made to Tyler Seguin, who, while more established than Drouin at the point in his career he got traded, had similar negative off-ice reputations. While the trade was more complicated in that it involved seven players, Seguin still cost veteran Loui Eriksson and a solid prospect in Reilly Smith. Yet, with the request for a trade and his work-ethic called into question, Drouin’s value has bottomed out. That being said, the Lightning would probably ask for a young, top-end defenseman from the Sabres in the ilk of Ristolainen. Reports have also leaked naming Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste in the talks, two of Buffalo’s most promising young-bloods in Rochester. That’s a steep price for a player like Drouin.
Depth at Left Wing: The Sabres seem set at top-end left-wing talent for the foreseeable future. First-line winger Ryan O’Reilly has solidified himself as a tremendous two-way forward and leader and second-liner Evander Kane has shown glimpses of stardom throughout his nascent career. The former signed a massive seven-year contract extension in the offseason and the latter is locked up for another two-and-a-half seasons. Drouin would find it hard to get minutes on the top lines with those two in front of him on the depth chart. He could always be moved to center, although that could stunt his development. Neither displacing O’Reilly and Kane nor changing positions would be beneficial to either the Sabres or Drouin.
Attitude Problems and Lack of Output in the NHL: For all of his requests for more game time and a bigger role in the team, Drouin doesn’t have the numbers to fall back on. He scored only four times in 70 games during his rookie campaign in the NHL last season and has a paltry eight points in 19 games this season. Those numbers don’t signify the kind of superstardom that Drouin was pegged to have when he was drafted so early in 2013. His unprofessionalism has been on display as well, as he recently failed to show up to an AHL game he was supposed to play in. One can sympathize with a talented young player for wanting more opportunity to play. However, that kind of disrespect for the franchise is unacceptable. The media can often frame and be biased, but it’s tough to deny that throughout this whole episode that Drouin has looked like nothing less than a whiny prima donna who won’t accept not getting his way. It seems that Drouin needs to grow both as a player and a person if he’s ever going to capitalize on the wealth of skill he possesses.
Drouin has undeniable talent. But, he would be an awful fit in Buffalo. Young, rebuilding teams like the Sabres should always be in the market for high-end prospects like Drouin. Does the price match the player though? Buffalo would likely have to give up a proven top-line defenseman like Ristolainen for an unsolidified, temperamental and volatile player who would likely have to learn a new position. The Sabres have shown great nous since their rebuild began. That needs to continue by passing up the flyer on Drouin.
Agree/Disagree? Should the Sabres make a move? Let me know your thoughts, and as always, tweet to @FromThe300Level