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Lightning's Stamkos, Drouin show what's possible as linemates

Left wing Jonathan Drouin, above, leads the Lightning in points, having played mostly with Steven Stamkos this season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Left wing Jonathan Drouin, above, leads the Lightning in points, having played mostly with Steven Stamkos this season.

TAMPA

They seem like the perfect match.

Since the day wing Jonathan Drouin was drafted No. 3 overall in 2013, Lightning fans have salivated at the thought of him being the playmaking partner of star center Steven Stamkos, kind of like how Marty St. Louis was.

Drouin, 20, is a magician with the puck. His smarts, skill — and pass-first tendency — make him an ideal setup man. Stamkos is one of the world's best finishers.

And you've seen early this season how dangerous and dynamic the combination can be. Stamkos has four goals, two of which were put beautifully on a tee for him by Drouin, who leads the Lightning with six points (one goal, five assists).

The scary part? Both think they have plenty of room to grow together.

"With each game, it's building," coach Jon Cooper said Friday. "By no means do I think it's anywhere where it still can be. When those guys are getting up and down the ice, they're a lot of fun to watch."

But it was Drouin who was doing a lot of watching Saturday in the 2-1 win against the Sabres. He was benched for most of the third period, getting just one shift in the final 24 minutes, and was taken off the power play as well.

He and Stamkos were split up late in the second period. Then again, so was the entire forward group, including the touted Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov.

After the Lightning got outhit and outplayed in an embarrassing first period, Cooper did a massive makeover of the lines. But of all the forwards, Drouin played the fewest shifts in the third (one). The next lowest was Vladislav Namestnikov (three). RW J.T. Brown had six.

"There were a few guys that didn't get a lot of shifts in the third period," Cooper said. "As a staff, we put the guys out there we thought, at this moment, were going to help us win the game, and they did, and that's what happened."

That mantra sounded a lot like what Cooper repeated during the playoffs last season, when Drouin was a healthy scratch for 20 of the 26 games.

But Drouin had seemingly been a different player this season, more mature, confident and assertive. "Night and day" from last season, Cooper said last week.

That's why Drouin has been attached at Stamkos' hip since the first day of training camp, the touted prospect earning his chance with a dazzling preseason.

To be fair, Saturday was not one of Drouin's best games. He had his share of turnovers and took a tripping penalty. But the entire team was guilty of sloppy play.

Drouin wasn't made available for comment after Saturday's game, so it's hard to know what he thought. Maybe Drouin and Stamkos will be back together Tuesday in Nashville and this is all moot.

But after having been challenged — again — we'll see how Drouin responds.

Lightning's Stamkos, Drouin show what's possible as linemates 10/17/15 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2015 11:32pm]
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