It was a bit of a surprise when Jonathan Drouin, the former 3rd overall pick in 2013, was sent down to Syracuse of the AHL yesterday. It was an even bigger surprise when it was revealed earlier today that Drouin asked for a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning in November, with him reportedly still wanting out.
So the question then becomes, would he make sense for the Leafs? Should the Leafs even want him? If they do want him, do they have the pieces to get it done?
Spoiler alert: the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding yes.
WHY THE LEAFS SHOULD TRADE FOR DROUIN
- His upside is huge
True, Drouin’s had a pretty lackluster career in the NHL so far – in 89 career games, he has just 40 points. What’s more is that of those 40 points, just 6 of them are goals. But the guy was drafted 3rd overall for a reason. When he’s on top of his game, he’s a dynamic skater, passer, and puckhandler. He put up 213 points in his last 95 games for Halifax in the QMJHL. During his last year in junior, people were making comments like, “It’s as if you dropped Patrick Kane into a game of junior hockey”. In other words, in spite of his struggles so far in the NHL, Drouin has enough skill to become a star in the NHL.
- He’s young
This is sort of a “Part B” to my first point. So yeah, Drouin has huge upside – obviously. But he hasn’t really figured it out in the NHL yet. That’s a fair criticism and all, but let’s not forget that it’s only been 2.5 years since he was drafted. The guy is still only 20 years old. Needless to say, he’s still developing and his best hockey is ahead of him.
What, that’s it? Only two arguments in favour of trading for this guy? Well yeah, his upside is huge and he’s still really young. What more can you ask for in a hockey player? The Leafs are a rebuilding team, and adding a player that possesses equal parts upside and youth is exactly the sort of thing they should be getting in on.
Oh yeah, and one more case for trading for him…
- He’s familiar with Steven Stamkos
When Steven Stamkos signs in Toronto next July (it’s happening), it’ll be big both for Steven and for the Leafs to have Drouin on board already. A pre-existing friendship, pre-existing chemistry, whatever. To have a player on the team that can help ease the transition for Stamkos will be huge for both him and for the Leafs. Why not hit the ground running?
WHY THEY SHOULDN’T TRADE FOR DROUIN
- Lack of NHL production
As we said already, he’s got just 40 points in 89 NHL games, and just 6 of those points are goals. That’s cause for at least a little concern. What if Drouin just can’t reach his upside? What if he ends up as a bust? It’s a legitimate possibility.
That said, though, I think the argument is somewhat weak. Yes, there’s a chance Drouin doesn’t work out. But like I said, he’s still really young and has a lot of development left to do. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- Character concerns?
Does Jonathan Drouin have character issues? Frankly, I have no idea. That’s what some people are saying, largely I think due to the simple fact that Drouin had the nerve to ask for a trade. Admittedly it’s somewhat concerning that Drouin would ask for a trade this early into his relationship with the Lightning – why not take the high road and try to get through the rough patches?
Still, even if Drouin does have some questions surrounding his character, it’s not enough for me to really be turned off by him. He’s young, maybe he’s immature, I don’t know. Maybe he’s a bonafide asshole that will forever destroy any locker room that he’s a part of now and in the future.
It’s a risk I’m willing to take. I want the Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. You win the Stanley Cup with elite players. You’re going to need to take some risks along the way. There isn’t enough there for me to conclude that Drouin’s potential reward doesn’t outweigh the risk.
TYLER SEGUIN: A CASE STUDY
I’m seeing a lot of parallels between Drouin now and Seguin a couple of years ago. Seguin had just 22 points in his rookie season for the Boston Bruins after being drafted 2nd overall in 2010. He was a frequent healthy scratch for Boston in the playoffs. He got traded from Boston after just three seasons, largely because of supposed character concerns.
…And now look at him. Seguin is an absolute force in the NHL, one of the league’s most elite players. 84 points in 80 games, 77 points in 71 games, and 50 points in 40 games. Those are the numbers Seguin has put up in his three seasons in Dallas. The Bruins seemed to have soured on Seguin a good deal by the time his tenure was done there, but something tells me the Bruins have come to regret trading him away in a deal centered around Loui Eriksson. Hell, Seguin even gets praised in Dallas for his leadership qualities now.
Maybe highly skilled, immense upside youngsters that haven’t quite figured it out in the big leagues, that sort of, kind of, maybe have character issues, aren’t totally irredeemable.
SO WHAT WOULD IT TAKE?
Let’s suppose the Leafs are interested in Drouin, which is a big assumption in itself. What would it take to pry Drouin away from Tampa? What should they be willing to give up?
In the case of Tyler Seguin, it took Loui Eriksson (established, productive top-six forward), Rielly Smith (decent young NHLer), Joe Morrow (B+ level prospect at the time), and Matt Fraser (bottom-six prospect). The Stars even got Rich Peverley, a decent middle-six forward at the time, as part of the package coming the other way.
The thing is though, Drouin probably wouldn’t cost that much. For one, as far as we know, Seguin never explicitly asked for a trade from Boston – it was the Bruins that wanted to unload him. In other words, the Bruins’ hand wasn’t forced like Tampa Bay’s is right now. Seguin had also established himself as a legitimate top-six forward by the time of the trade – something Drouin really hasn’t done. And as we just said, the Stars also got Rich Peverley as part of the deal. Would the Leafs be taking back an additional player from Tampa Bay? I guess it’s possible, but as far as we know the answer to that question would be no. So where the normal equivalent might be something like James Van Riemsdyk, Scott Harrington, Kasperi Kapanen, and Sam Carrick, I really don’t think the Leafs would have to give up that much. Hell, that would be more than the Leafs got for Phil Kessel, someone whose done a lot more in the NHL up until this point than Drouin has.
I don’t want to speculate too much on what specifically a trade for Drouin might look like. I don’t go on HF Boards anymore for a reason. All I can say is that it probably costs an established, productive NHL forward (such as say a Van Riemsdyk), with a little something extra on the side (A good young NHLer? A decent-enough prospect? Some draft picks? I don’t know). What’s important to note here is that it’s a price the Leafs can likely afford to pay, as long as they’re willing to incur the risk. Would you trade JVR and a little something else for the possibility of acquiring a first-line winger for the next decade? I sure would.
And I’ll also say this: Drouin probably possesses more upside than any other player in the entire Leafs organization. Yes, Drouin has more raw skill than the likes of Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly. Would I include any of those 3 in a trade for Drouin? Probably not, because I doubt you would need to give that up. But I would be willing to entertain the thought, because that’s how big the upside is with Drouin. He could be an absolute star.
The Leafs should be all over the possibility of bringing Jonathan Drouin to Toronto. He’s got huge upside, he’s really young, and the Leafs have the pieces to get it done. What are those pieces exactly? I don’t know. But the Leafs have established, productive NHLers with good contracts in their lineup, they have blue chip prospects, and they have lots of draft picks (with more on the way). Jonathan Drouin represents the exact sort of player the Leafs should be going after in a trade. If the Leafs aren’t pressing hard to try and make Drouin a Leaf, or if they at the very least aren’t inquiring about Drouin with Tampa Bay, I’d be extremely disappointed.