Jonathan Drouin is ready to lace up his skates. And the Tampa Bay Lightning are ready to welcome the recalcitrant winger back to the fold ... on their terms.
The Bolts announced on Monday that they had lifted the suspension of the 20-year-old winger, allowing him to report to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch for practice on Tuesday. He's been out of action since Jan. 20, when his refusal to report for an AHL game in Toronto against the Marlies after being demoted led the Lightning to suspend him without pay.
The timing of the decision is important. Monday is the AHL roster deadline for postseason eligibility, and while the Crunch currently sit outside the playoff picture it makes sense to have Drouin available if they can sneak in.
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It is possible that Drouin could return to the Lightning's lineup this season, although that option seems unlikely.
Either way, time is running out for Drouin to salvage this lost season. The Crunch have 17 games remaining, beginning with Friday’s contest against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. By returning to action now, Drouin can showcase both his talents, and his commitment, ahead of the next big talent swap meet: the NHL Entry Draft in June.
Drouin's commitment was a stumbling block as Lightning GM Steve Yzerman tried, and failed, to move Drouin ahead of last week's NHL trade deadline.
More to come.