This past weekend, there was a firestorm of information regarding the status of 20-year old Jonathan Drouin, left wing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Drouin, the third overall pick in 2013, was assigned to the team's AHL affiliate, as Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman cited the need for Drouin to receive more playing time than he was currently getting in the NHL.
That was just the beginning of the saga, however.
On Sunday morning, Drouin's agent Allan Walsh released a statement, revealing that his client had submitted a trade request to Lightning management in November. In wake of the forward's demotion, Walsh and Drouin were going public with that request.
A statement from Jonathan Drouin's agent Allan Walsh regarding his client's future in TB: pic.twitter.com/Vhwet1IpTW— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) January 3, 2016
It's rare when a talented, dynamic 20-year old forward hits the trade market, especially after he showed early signs of being able to produce offensively at the NHL level. Drouin's trade request does not guarantee he will be moved - Tampa Bay still controls his rights and has no obligation to honor the request. But the public nature of the request does put extra pressure on Yzerman to explore the possibility.
Most likely, Yzerman and the Lightning will at least listen to offers from other teams for their disgruntled young winger. Should the Flyers be one of those teams?
Why the Flyers should try to get Drouin
There's a case to be made that Drouin's trade request will not be received well by general managers around the league. That Drouin should pay his dues and earn his way into a full-time NHL job, and not demand he be used like a top-nine forward at such a young age.
It's easy to be sympathetic to Drouin for one key reason, however - he's right. His statistical performance thus far warrants an NHL roster spot and consistent even strength ice time.
In 95 NHL games, Drouin has averaged 1.80 points per sixty minutes of even strength play. That ranks him fourth among Tampa Bay forwards during the past two seasons, behind only Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. Yes, that's right - he's scored at a more efficient rate than even Steven Stamkos.
His possession statistics, while not stellar, are at least above the break even point. His 52.52% Corsi For percentage ranks seventh among Lightning forwards with at least 100 minutes of 5v5 ice time. In addition, Tampa Bay does slightly worse overall when Drouin is not playing, posting a 51.83% Corsi For without the winger. He may not be dramatically driving possession relative to his teammates, but he's not dragging them down either.
But most importantly - Drouin is only 20 years old. Even though work from Eric Tulsky showed that scorers peak earlier than previously thought, the "prime" of forwards still lands between the ages of 23-26. So Drouin likely has not hit his efficiency peak yet.
In addition, the Tampa forward is a natural left winger. That happens to be the position where the Flyers' current forward depth is weakest. In fact, in terms of top-nine forwards, only Michael Raffl seems truly comfortable on the left side. Brayden Schenn has lobbied in the past to play right wing and has gotten his wish through the majority of this season. Jakub Voracek has moved to the left as part of a still-ongoing experiment, but he too prefers the right side. Matt Read, the Swiss Army Knife of the lineup, is capable of playing left wing but remains a right-handed shot who plays the left side more out of necessity.
Drouin would solve that problem. His draft pedigree and early point production indicators hint at a player with first-line potential, and any puck possession weaknesses in his game would likely be resolved through skating alongside play drivers Claude Giroux or Jakub Voracek. His scoring potential would add an injection of competence to a forward corps suffering from a lack of truly effective even strength point producers.
Also, Drouin's age is a major selling point, especially considering the Flyers' current status of retooling their roster around up-and-coming defense prospects. One of the lingering fears surrounding Philadelphia's "rebuild" is that just as some combination of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Shayne Gostisbehere, Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg is ready to take over as the heavy-minute loggers on the Flyers' blueline, stars Giroux and Voracek will be long past their scoring primes. The addition of a young elite talent gives Philadelphia a viable Plan B in case their current stars dramatically tail off as they enter their 30s.
There are more than enough reasons for Ron Hextall to at least check on the price for an asset like Drouin.
Why the Flyers should say no to Drouin
And now we come to the biggest reason why Jonathan Drouin remains something of a pipe dream for the Philadelphia Flyers. Tampa Bay rightfully should ask for a haul to let him out of their grasp.
The Lightning have no obligation to honor Drouin's trade request. He's still playing under his entry-level contract, and Tampa Bay then controls multiple years of restricted free agency status. While Drouin is clearly unhappy right now, he has very little leverage unless he wants to risk being categorized as a malcontent throughout the league.
Still, the Lightning are a team in a championship window, even if their performance so far this season has been disappointing. With Steven Stamkos reluctant to sign a long-term contract with the team, this upcoming playoff run becomes even more important to the franchise as a whole.
Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff clearly has deemed Drouin not yet ready to help them at the NHL level in the club's push for the playoffs. But in the interim, the Lightning could use a scoring boost. Therefore, it seems likely that any trade for Drouin would have to include established NHL talent.
But the trade package would probably need to be larger than that. When Kyle Turris (2007 3rd overall pick) was traded at age 22, he brought back David Rundblad (at the time a solid defense prospect) and a second round pick. Considering the fact that Turris had already reached RFA status at the time of the trade while Drouin remains on his entry-level contract, Drouin would almost certainly command more value.
From the Flyers' side, a package of Brayden Schenn, a top prospect and a high draft pick seems reasonable. Schenn has established himself as a viable top-nine forward, and his cap hit is low enough to fit in Tampa's lineup with only minor roster adjustments needed.
The inclusion of Schenn would probably not be a deal-breaker for the Flyers. He's been regularly involved in trade rumors over the past year, and the team has yet to extend his contract past this season despite locking up every other young forward currently on the roster. But Hextall would likely hesitate on the addition of prospects and picks.
As general manager, Hextall has valued his prospects and picks like gold bullion. He recognizes that the Flyers are in something of an accelerated rebuild, and that a barren farm system was a main cause of the team's current dilemma. Still, Drouin is also young - younger even than Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg - so the possibility of a move cannot be ruled out.
If the Flyers could structure a deal around Schenn, one of Samuel Morin or Robert Hagg, and a non-first round pick, I suspect Hextall would have interest in pulling the trigger. If Tampa Bay does not have interest in Schenn, Morin or Hagg, however, I find it difficult to see Hextall offering pieces like Wayne Simmonds, Ivan Provorov or Travis Sanheim as replacements.
Simmonds would be a difficult fit under Tampa's cap anyway, while both Provorov and Sanheim possess first-pairing NHL potential. While Tampa would not be wrong to ask for any of those players in return for Drouin, the Flyers would not be faulted either for retaining their talent.
There is legitimate justification for Ron Hextall and the Flyers having interest in Jonathan Drouin. But truthfully, all 29 NHL teams should at least make a call to Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman regarding the talented winger. Drouin has youth, speed, skill, and promising early-career point production in his favor. If the situation in Tampa Bay truly has become untenable, every competent general manager should be calling to check on the price.
Drouin does make sense for Philadelphia given their current situation. A natural left winger, Drouin would help to solve the forward corps' largest weakness from a depth chart standpoint. In addition, Drouin could provide a spark for a top-nine low on overall depth and high-end scoring talent past their stars Giroux and Voracek.
But the cost very well could prove prohibitive. Yzerman has no obligation to move Drouin, and therefore should be able to pit interested teams against each other with the goal of choosing the best offer. While a package of Brayden Schenn, Samuel Morin and a second round pick could be an acceptable deal for the Flyers, an asking price of Wayne Simmonds, Travis Sanheim and a first rounder would almost certainly be rejected by Hextall.
Hextall owes it to his franchise to place a call to Yzerman, and he likely already has done so. But the chances of Drouin donning the orange and black remain slim at best.