TAMPA — The Lightning reassigned RW Jonathan Drouin to AHL Syracuse on Saturday morning, no doubt a move tough to swallow for the 2013 No. 3 overall draft pick.
The team didn't officially label it a conditioning assignment, but GM Steve Yzerman said it was a move "specifically so he gets playing time," comparing it with what the Lightning did recently with G Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Drouin has been limited to 19 games this season — just five since mid November — due to injuries. Yzerman said there was no set date for his return to the NHL.
"Jonathan has played in nine games in the last nine weeks," Yzerman said. "He's been dealing with a minor nagging issue that is finally healed. With everyone coming back at the same time (from injuries), it's a good opportunity to get a young player a lot of ice time, get his game right back on top and bring him back at the appropriate time."
Drouin wasn't available for comment.
The other part of this decision was that LW Ondrej Palat returned to the lineup for the 3-2 shootout win against the Wild on Saturday, giving Tampa Bay 14 healthy forwards. Someone had to go. Drouin didn't need to clear waivers to get sent down.
Drouin returned Wednesday against the Rangers after missing eight games with a lower-body injury. He played just 10 minutes, 51 seconds in the 5-2 loss and was minus-2. If Drouin is not going to play for the Lightning, he might as well play somewhere, and he'll get top-line time with the Crunch starting today.
Yzerman said he was cognizant of how this could impact Drouin mentally.
"We take everything into account," Yzerman said. "But we have a reason for doing it, and I believe in the reasons for doing it. Jonathan expressed to me he understands the reasons for it. So again, we want our players to succeed, and we want them to play well and put them in best position to succeed. And I believe this helps that."
Some may question whether Drouin has been put in the best situation to succeed. After being sent back to juniors in 2013-14, he often played limited minutes on the fourth line during his 70-game rookie season last season, when he was a healthy scratch in 20 of 26 playoff games. But Yzerman indicated the team believes in Drouin.
"I think he's a tremendous young talent," Yzerman said. "One, he needs to stay healthy and get in the lineup and show what he can do."
When Cooper was asked about Drouin, he deferred questions to Yzerman before connecting Drouin with Vasilevskiy.
"(They) are young and up-and-coming players," Cooper said. "When you miss a prolonged amount of time, you have it in your best interest to go and get game time. So if you're not going to play as much here, whether it is in net or up front, that's the best thing for the player and the team to get players back in game condition and makes them the best player possible."
BISHOP OKAY: G Ben Bishop, who left Friday's practice after 10 minutes and didn't return, said he felt fine after Saturday's morning skate and was available to play against the Wild. "Something just wasn't feeling right, so there was no sense in pushing it," Bishop said.
NUTS AND BOLTS: Palat (left ankle) returned after missing eight games. … RW Erik Condra and D Nikita Nesterov were healthy scratches.