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NAMESTNIKOV 'HAS NOT BLINKED'

After a four-game callup last season, C Vladislav Namestnikov said it made him "hungrier" to get back.

Namestnikov, 21, is showing that this preseason, racking up two more assists in Thursday's 3-0 Lightning win over the Panthers to give him a team-high seven.

"He clearly wants to try to make this team," coach Jon Cooper said. "As the preseason goes on, games are tougher and tougher, playing NHL competition, and he has not blinked yet. It's nice to see. He's upped his game since his callup last year, and that's what you want to see.

Cooper said Namestnikov had the hockey sense, the vision and the hands, but the Russian has gotten stronger with the puck thanks to his summer work. Namestnikov is battling for a spot. "He's really opened some eyes," Cooper said.

GETTING CLOSE: Veteran wing Brenden Morrow returned to the ice, having been limited the previous three days due to a stiff back. Morrow, 35, was encouraged about how he felt after a long workout, and though he didn't play against the Panthers at BB&T Center, he hopes to get into the preseason finale against the Panthers on Saturday at Amalie Arena. "I had a good day, so spirits are pretty high," Morrow said. "It's been frustrating the last couple days, but I felt really good. I think we'll see how it reacts ... but I'm hopeful for Saturday."

DROUIN UPDATE: Touted wing prospect Jonathan Drouin said he'll get an X-ray in the next couple of days to see how his fractured right thumb is healing. He has been at practice the past three days wearing a no-contact jersey and said the thumb feels better when he stickhandles and takes wrist shots.

But with just a week before the regular season starts, it doesn't appear likely Drouin will be ready, as much as he has hoped he would be. Cooper said the teamwon't rush Drouin, partly because it doesn't believe it has to.

"Do I hope he'd be ready? It's just another weapon in the arsenal we can use," Cooper said. "But in saying that, we want to make sure this is 100 percent healthy and not a nagging thing. As of (Thursday), we're not in any position where we need to rush him back. It will be nice to get him back sooner rather than later, just for his confidence so we can see what we have."

STAYING BACK: Morrow, C Brian Boyle, C Jonathan Marchessault, D Eric Brewer, D Jason Garrison, D Andrej Sustr and G Ben Bishop did not make the trip to Sunrise. Drouin did but didn't play.

GAME DETAILS: The Lightning outshot the Panthers 33-21. ... C Tyler Johnson and LW Ondrej Palat got their first preseason points, Johnson assisting on Palat's first-period goal. ... RW Nikita Kucherov scored twice, including an empty-netter, giving him a team-high five goals... G Evgeni Nabokov played the whole game and made 21 saves. ... C Steven Stamkos said it was "part of the game" when he was thrown down in the corner by D Erik Gudbranson in the second period. C Alex Killorn came to his defense. Stamkos then traded punches with C Jussi Jokinen. "(Stamkos is) not backing down to anybody," Cooper said. "That's a good sign." The Lightning (4-1-0) is 24-for-24 on the penalty kill this preseason.

MISCELLANY: Cooper said he had not decided who would play on Stamkos' line to start the season but likes Palat on the left. ... The Lightning wrapped up its week in Estero and was scheduled to have a team golf outing today before returning to Amalie Arena on Saturday.

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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