NEWARK, N.J. — Jonathan Drouin said exactly what he likely was coached to say when asked what he anticipates from today's NHL draft at the Prudential Center.
"It's been a long process," he said. "A lot of hype. I just want to be in a great organization."
But when pressed about perhaps being taken by the Lightning with the No. 3 overall pick and maybe one day playing on a line with Steven Stamkos, the left wing perked up.
"For sure," he said. "Tampa is a team I really like. They have a lot of young prospects. They have a really good team, so, obviously, I'd like to go to Tampa."
If things play out as many expect, Drouin, 18 — the MVP of the junior Quebec league last season and whom Al Murray, the Lightning's director of amateur scouting, called "as good a play-maker as there is in the draft" — might be Tampa Bay's choice.
Then again, the Lightning, desperate for an impact center after the buyout of Vinny Lecavalier, could go with Finland's Aleksander Barkov, who some believe is most NHL ready.
On the other hand, there are scenarios in which defenseman Seth Jones, ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the No. 1 North American skater, might fall to No. 3. If so, he would merit serious consideration.
The point is, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said, "regardless of who goes one and two, we get a really good prospect."
Yzerman is comfortable enough with his options, he said, that he doesn't feel a need to trade up or down.
That said, the Bruins, whose first pick is No. 60, want to move up and were rumored to have engaged Yzerman in talks for speedy right wing Tyler Seguin. How much traction the talks had was unclear. There also have been plenty of rumblings Yzerman is willing to part with left wing Ryan Malone. Tampa Bay also has a deep well of prospects with which to deal. (For more on the Seguin rumors, go to tampabay.com/blogs/lightning.)
Otherwise, what Tampa Bay does is dependent on what happens with the Avalanche at No. 1 and Panthers at No. 2. Colorado has indicated it will take right wing Nathan MacKinnon. Reports point to Florida taking Jones.
If it plays out that way, Tampa Bay might be deciding between Drouin, who last season had 41 goals and 105 points in 49 games for Halifax, and Barkov, whose 48 points last season were second for Tappara and a record for a 17-year-old in Finland's elite league.
A separated shoulder sustained in the first round of the playoffs is not expected to affect Barkov's status.
"He's big, and he's a very good skater," Murray said of the 6-foot-2, 202-pounder he compared to San Jose's Joe Thornton. "He doesn't run all over the place. He's not the first guy in on hits, but he's very conscious of his defensive positioning."
As for Drouin, "he will set (Stamkos) up night and day, all day long," said Don Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting. "Anyone who gets to play next to Drouin really appreciates him. Everybody talks about the kid playing on the third line, but he may have some of those first- and second-liners wanting to play with him."
The Lightning certainly will need another playmaker once Marty St. Louis, who turned 38 this month, calls it quits, and Drouin on Saturday met with Tampa Bay.
There still is plenty of time for intrigue. Trade chatter heated up for the Avalanche on Saturday.
"And I have no idea what Florida is thinking right now," Yzerman said. "I know (GM Dale Tallon) has considered moving back to four (from No. 2), so that could change things if Nashville were able to move up (from No. 4). We could potentially have to make a decision."
One that, it seems, will provide a good outcome.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]