Jonathan Drouin has a chance at redemption

Jonathan Drouin could control his fate by his play in the AHL. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

As much as the preceding weeks have been chock full of drama, vitriol and misinformation when it comes to the story of disgruntled prospect Jonathan Drouin, now is when things get interesting.

The erstwhile Tampa Bay Lightning prodigy who boo-hooed his way off the team and into an unpaid suspension when he refused to report for an American Hockey League game in Toronto on Jan. 20, is now back with the Syracuse Crunch, the Tampa Bay Lightning's top minor league affiliate.

It is a chance for Drouin, 20, to begin rehabilitating his career and reputation, which has been put through the blender in recent weeks.

It won't necessarily be easy, but it doesn't necessarily have to be a trial.

He's a kid. It's a game.

And it's a game Drouin has shown, at least in part, to be very, very good at.

We often talk about the building of character for young players, learning how to become not just pro hockey players but professionals in all areas of their life. Surely these past weeks have tested Drouin's character, his resolve and his belief in himself.

And you have to assume this has been a great lesson in humility for Drouin.

Now we will see what he has learned from these lessons.

If he keeps his head down, works hard and plays good hockey for the Crunch, then he will make it much easier for general manager Steve Yzerman to find a trade partner willing to provide the assets that Yzerman requires in order grant Drouin's trade request.

The better Drouin plays, the more comfortable opposing GMs will be in trading value for value.

As we learned through the trade deadline process, Yzerman wants what he wants and refuses to be boxed into a corner. He would not accept a trade that did not suit his needs, his vision of what would make the Lightning better both short-term and big-picture regardless of Drouin's demands.

And then there's this: Yzerman indicated to local reporters Monday that if Drouin plays well, he might even earn a call-up to the big squad. And who couldn't imagine this storyline: Drouin returns during Lightning playoff run to help the Lightning to a Stanley Cup.

Never mind John Scott, Hollywood would be lining up to take a run at that story of redemption.

Of course, if the opposite happens in Syracuse, well, all bets are off, aren't they?

If Drouin mopes about and produces at the rate he did when he was first sent to the AHL in early January when he managed just two goals and one assist in seven games, well, this story may get uglier yet.

Because if we have learned one thing about this showdown between the unproven prospect and the Hall of Fame GM it is that you don't cross swords with the Hall of Famer. Ever.

If Drouin falters, if he does not show the proper humility, the proper work ethic, if he continues to come off as a petulant child who feels he is owed special treatment in spite of a stunning lack of production, then Yzerman will have no problem burying Drouin.

Does anyone believe anything different after all that has unfolded?

That would be a shame, of course.

A waste of a young talent and from the team's perspective, the waste of a terrific asset.

Time will tell and the only person who can tell with any certainty which way this will go, how this final chapter in Drouin's life as a Tampa Bay Lightning is Drouin himself.