NEW YORK -- Jonathan Drouin had envisioned this season working out much differently.
Certainly what he didn't think would play out was watching the playoffs from the media box while his Tampa Bay Lightning reached the Eastern Conference finals. Game 2 is Monday in New York at 8 p.m. ET.
"It's definitely frustrating, anybody would tell you that, if you’re not in the lineup," Drouin said Sunday after skating with the extras at Madison Square Garden. "You obviously want to be in, but we're winning and we're in the conference finals. We have a good team, we’re rolling really good and we want that to continue."
One look at his face and you know it's eating at him. He has played in just three playoff games this spring.
The third-overall pick in the 2013 draft, he has seen fellow draft picks Nathan MacKinnon, Alekander Barkov, Seth Jones and Sean Monahan accomplish so much more in their young NHL careers. That’s the part no doubt that has to eat at Drouin deep down. But he insists he’s not focused on that.
"I try not to look around at what's going on with young guys or my draft, just make sure I’m ready when I get a chance," he said.
What’s clear no matter what anyone says is that head coach Jon Cooper just doesn’t trust him enough defensively.
Asked about his 200-foot game, Drouin said: "It’s up to them, my game’s fine, I want to be in every night and play every game, but it’s not up to me."
That's doesn't mean we won't see Drouin at some point, especially if the Lightning fall into a bigger hole in this series and need goals, but the decision to dress AHL call-up Jonathan Marchessault over Drouin over the past few games speaks volumes.
"Ultimately, it's my decision who goes in the lineup, and that's it," Cooper said Sunday when asked by Bleacher Report about not dressing Drouin. "It's talked about and then finally the decision is made, what are the 20 guys that we think are going to help us win tonight? Sometimes he's in that 20. Sometimes he's not. ...
"There is more than one net in a rink. There's two. So you have to be able to play in front of both of them. ...
"As we tell all our guys, it's professional hockey. You have to be a pro. If you're not in, be prepared because you never know when your name is going to be called."
Drouin said the message to him from the coaching staff was just to be ready.
"Sometimes injuries happen, sometimes they want to change their lineup," Drouin said. "It’s just being ready, practice hard and make sure when my opportunity comes I just grab it."
Drouin appeared in 70 games during the regular season, scoring four goals, while averaging just 13-14 minutes per game. In retrospect, and maybe this is nitpicking, but I would have given the kid more of a top-six chance during the season, when the games mattered less, to sink or swim in order to figure things out for himself. Easy for me to say, I’m not juggling such a talent-ridden roster like Cooper is.
Also, Drouin is only 20 years old. I think we forget that sometimes. He’s going to be a real good player in this league. Many young stars broke in like this, having to bide their time.
As for anyone suggesting that what’s transpiring will lead to some kind of offseason turmoil, Drouin downplayed that possibility.
"I don't want to leave ... I'm happy here," he said. "There's four teams left right now, we've got a chance to win a Stanley Cup, I’m part of it and I just have to be ready."