Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Drouin focus of Lightning prospects camp

TAMPA — To say Jonathan Drouin was under scrutiny Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum is probably overstating things a bit.

But during Drouin's first skate with his new Lightning teammates, the No. 3 overall pick of the June draft — already hyped as a can't-miss player and projected to one day be a linemate of Steven Stamkos — definitely was being watched.

"Guys, for sure, are going to watch to see the skills you have," Stamkos said after the hour workout. "It's just an excitement to have this guy on the team."

Now all Drouin has to do is prove he is ready for the NHL.

That process begins at the team's prospect camp today and Thursday at the Times Forum, a prelude to a three-game prospects tournament in Coral Springs that includes the Panthers, Bruins and Predators.

Then it's on to training camp that begins next Wednesday.

"Yeah, I think I'm ready," Drouin, 18, said. "I'm going to try to prove to everyone I can play in this league. That's my goal."

There is plenty to indicate he just might be able to do it.

First of all, he is healthy after a puck to the inside of his left foot caused a hairline fracture that in August kept him out of Canada's world junior tournament camp.

At 5 feet 11, 195 pounds, Drouin added 7 pounds of muscle after last season, when he had 41 goals and 105 points in 49 games for Halifax of the junior Quebec league. And at the Lightning's summer prospects camp, the left wing displayed a skill set coach Jon Cooper called "jaw-dropping."

That said, camp games were three-on-three with little defense and zero hitting, which is why Cooper said "you can't judge out of that situation" how Drouin's skills will translate to the league.

More telling, Cooper said, is how Drouin elevated his game at crucial times, specifically at the 2013 world junior championship in which he had two goals, four points in six games for Canada as an "underage" player. He had a goal and nine points in four games as Halifax won the Memorial Cup given to the Canadian junior leagues champion.

"On the biggest stages he's found a way," Cooper said. "I put much more stock in that."

There also is this: "There's a professionalism about him that is well beyond his years," Cooper said. "But he still has that kid in him. If he has that kind of grasp of his on-ice game as well, he could be a special player."

Is Drouin NHL ready? "I wouldn't bet against him, that's for sure," Halifax coach Dom Ducharme said. "It will be an adjustment. But if there is one thing he showed it's his capacity to learn and adapt very quickly."

Even so, Drouin is like any other player trying to make a good first impression.

"There were nerves skating with those guys," he said of Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. "Marty is a legend in the NHL, and Stamkos, obviously, you don't want to do anything bad. … You can't go out there and do what you normally do. It's going to get better as it goes on."

The pressure eventually will increase as well. Not that Drouin minds.

"There's pressure in every situation," he said. "But this is where I want to be. I want to make the team, everybody knows that."

And everyone will be watching.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected].

 
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