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Drouin getting closer, hopes to play on homestand

Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 3:04pm

When touted wing prospect Jonathan Drouin suffered a right thumb fracture Sept. 18, expected to miss 3-4 weeks, his goal was to be ready by opening night Thursday against the Panthers.

But while Drouin, 19, has progressed in recent days in what he could do in practice, he won't play Thursday.

"It's no point in rushing," Drouin said. "Maybe I can play, but it's not Game 7 of the playoffs or something. It's disappointing, but you've got to look at the big picture."

The big picture is the Lightning wants Drouin, the No. 3 overall pick in 2013, to be in the best situation to succeed when he makes his anticipated NHL debut. And while coach Jon Cooper said Drouin could play Thursday if they absolutely needed him, they want to make sure he's in the best shape, and prepared, before throwing him in, especially since he didn't play all preseason and is making the jump from juniors.

"If we truly needed him this second, he could answer the bell," Cooper said. "But we want to make sure he's NHL ready, there's no lingering effects of anything on him. And as you can see, he's whipping around, he's getting hsi stickhandling and all that. But the onus is on us to give him the best chance to succeed.

Drouin switched his red non-contact jersey for black in Wednesday's skate, when he participated in some of the drills and shooting. The thumb is getting better every day, he says, but he hasn't fully tested it with his best shot.

The Lightning is still weighing the pros and cons of whether to have Drouin do a short conditioning assignment with AHL Syracuse, or get ready by practicing with the team. Drouin is shooting to play in one of the four games in this opening homestand.

"He just needs to get his conditioning up to NHL standards," assistant general manager Julien BriseBois said. "It's a big step, going not just from junior to the NHL preseason to NHL, he's going from juniors to NHL, so we want to make sure we put him in the best situation to have succes from the get-go. So we're being patient."