TAMPA — Lightning rookie LW Jonathan Drouin got off to a fast start in his NHL career, often playing on the top line and averaging more than 18 minutes during his first four games.
But Tuesday against the Coyotes, Drouin, 19, was placed on a lower line with fellow rookies Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov, logging just 11 minutes, 50 seconds, including no power-play time. Same thing on Thursday against the Flyers, when Drouin was on the fourth line with the same two players, playing 9:58.
Coach Jon Cooper said Drouin was thrust into a larger role his first week with the team due to injuries and now he's with a group "he should be playing with" as he learns to play better without the puck.
Drouin, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2013, is taking the change in stride. "Wherever I fit, wherever I have to play, it's not a big deal," he said. "It's hard to complain. I've got some learning to do on a lot of stuff. Playing the fourth line, third line, first line, it's still the NHL."
Drouin fit in well on the top line last week with captain Steven Stamkos, who praised the rookie for his poise and skills for his age. Cooper said Drouin's play without the puck is getting "better and better" each day, pointing out how he was trusted to be on the ice in the final minutes Thursday.
Drouin made the most of his action against the Flyers, with four shots and an assist, giving him four points in six games.
"I don't think from the outset we were there saying, 'Jo Drouin will be a 20-minute guy out of the gate,' " Cooper said. "Jo is an ultratalent. He's a really good player. But he has to learn to play away from the puck just like everybody else has to. You play him on a different line, it takes a little bit of pressure off him and just guiding him into where he's hopefully going to end up.
"I don't know too many people who jump into the league at 19 and are playing 22 minutes a night. It just doesn't really happen."
WELCOME BACK: Former Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said he was bummed he couldn't play Thursday in his only game in Tampa this season, a foot injury keeping the Flyers forward out of the lineup. But he said it was great to be back, getting to sleep in his own bed Wednesday night, saying he plans to live in Tampa when his career is over. "It's a special place," he said. Lecavalier said it was "weird" that neither he nor Marty St. Louis are playing for Tampa Bay, noting that with all the Lightning turnover, he doesn't know three-fourths of the current players. "It's an unbelievable organization, as you see what they are doing with the team right now," Lecavalier said. "They are going to be good for many years."
ICE CHIPS: RW Ryan Callahan (lower body) did not practice, but it was a planned day off and he still was on target to return Saturday against the Capitals, Cooper said. … D Andrej Sustr suffered what Cooper called a minor injury. … D Mark Barberio was scratched. … D Eric Brewer and LW Brenden Morrow were alternate captains. … The lines remained the same. Cooper suggested Valtteri Filppula won't be on Stamkos' line permanently; he believes the team is better if Stamkos, Filppula and Tyler Johnson are all playing center.