Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning pick Drouin starred from start

When Lightning forward Alex Killorn was 15, he and his buddies on the Lac St. Louis Lions in Montreal would notice a 10-year-old skating rings around his peers.

A year or two later, the kid began skating with the older players and, funny thing, he skated rings around them, too.

"We'd hit him, push him around to just toughen him up a little," Killorn said. "Nobody was trying to hurt him. He was so skilled you couldn't be mad. We just looked at him, like, 'Who is this kid?' "

That kid was Jonathan Drouin, who became Killorn's teammate Sunday when the Lightning took him with the No. 3 overall pick of the draft.

"I know he'll be a great fit for Tampa," Killorn said. "I was definitely excited."

Drouin, 18, of Huberdeau, Quebec, makes that kind of impression.

Don Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, compared the left wing to Avalanche legend Joe Sakic and said his high-end play-making and soft hands make him "a potential Hall of Fame player."

Nathan MacKinnon, the No. 1 overall pick of the draft and Drouin's teammate with Halifax of the junior Quebec league, called Drouin "a very special player" with "great vision and great hockey sense."

Wing Adam Erne, the Lightning's second-round pick who faced Drouin plenty in the Quebec league, said Drouin was set apart by his "great vision and great hands."

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper especially likes how Drouin "makes everybody around him better."

Then there is the YouTube video of Drouin — the Quebec league MVP who had 41 goals, 105 points in 49 games — keeping what seems a magnetic puck on his stick as he cuts in and out of the opposition to set up teammate Stefan Fournir's goal that sent the fans into a frenzy. (Go to youtube.com and search for "Drouin best shift.")

"The best part of his game is his play-making," said Al Murray, the Lightning's director of amateur scouting. "He's very unselfish, sees the ice really well. He really is a complete forward."

Those qualities intensified last season after a summer of power-skating lessons with noted instructor Barb Underhill.

In January, Drouin played as a 17-year-old for Canada at the world junior championship. In February, with MacKinnon out 11 games with a lower-body injury, Drouin had 11 goals and 27 points.

"It's just confidence," Drouin said. "The world juniors really helped me. I think a 17-year-old making that team is really rare, and I really stepped up after we came back in January."

Drouin, 5 feet 11, 190 pounds, said he has gained 5 pounds of muscle since last season. To stay leaner he has switched to whole wheat pastas, eats more fish and "a lot of good meat."

To say his development as a pro is starting from a pretty high baseline is an understatement.

"He was just so confident when he played, and he just didn't care," Killorn said of the younger Drouin back in Montreal. "He was so skilled he just went through guys. Last summer when I saw him I was, like, 'Holy (cow), this kid could go really high in the draft.' "

And what do you know? He did.

Labrie re-signs: Right wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie signed a one-year, one-way contract. He would have been an unrestricted free agent on Friday. Labrie, 26, had two goals and three points in 190 games last season for Tampa Bay. Financial terms were not immediately available.

QUALIFYING OFFERS: The Lightning sent qualifying offers and retained the rights to AHL Syracuse forwards J.T. Brown and Dan Sexton and defenseman Mark Barberio, each a potential restricted free agent.

Tampa Bay did not qualify Lightning wing Ben Pouliot and Syracuse defenseman Brendan Mikkelson. They will be unrestricted free agents. Goalie Pat Nagle and left wing Alex Hutchings of ECHL Florida also were not qualified.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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