On Thursday morning, Tampa Bay forward Jonathan Drouin, wearing a green jersey along with linemates Brian Boyle, Brenden Morrow and Brett Connolly, skated with the Lightning at Amalie Arena before the team boarded a plane bound for Vancouver to play the Canucks on Saturday.
Drouin, however, won't be joining the Bolts on their road trip to Western Canada.
Drouin, the highly-touted player NHL.com rated as the top prospect in the league prior to the regular season, will begin his professional career on a rehab assignment in Syracuse with the Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate.
Drouin has been sidelined since September 22 after x-rays discovered a slight fracture of his right thumb. The initial diagnosis suggested Drouin would miss three to four weeks.
Drouin is currently in week four of his recovery. The 19-year-old said he found out Wednesday he would be joining the Crunch.
"I didn't have any preseason time or games to get going, so it would be hard to just come play right away in this league," Drouin said. "I think it's a smart move to put me in Syracuse for a bit."
Drouin can stay with Syracuse for a maximum of 14 days. Lightning assistant general manager and Crunch GM Julien BriseBois indicated Drouin would likely remain with the Crunch for two weekends. The Crunch play home games this Friday and Saturday and have a three-game road trip to Worcester, Portland and Springfield next weekend (Oct. 24-26).
"Essentially, it's his training camp," BriseBois said. "He hasn't had a training camp. He needs to get into game shape. He needs to get some reps to get his timing back, and that's what we're going to do here by sending him to Syracuse for potentially two weeks."
Drouin is scheduled to make his Syracuse debut Friday versus the Springfield Falcons.
"The conditioning part and the timing part I need back a little bit," said Drouin, the Lightning's first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft and third selection overall. "It's hard to just jump in after four weeks in the NHL. It's a hard league and you need some games before."
Drouin said he doesn't view the assignment as a demotion.
"It's not really sending me down," he said. "It's more getting me ready to come back here and make sure I'm 100% and ready."
Drouin said he's been getting hit and slashed more in practice by his teammates and indicated he's ready to start experiencing game contact again.
"I'm completely fine," he said. "My thumb's healed and just ready to get it started."
The Lightning play Vancouver on Saturday before games at Edmonton (Monday, Oct. 20), Calgary (Tuesday, Oct. 21), Winnipeg (Friday, Oct. 24) and Minnesota (Saturday, Oct. 25). Drouin could rejoin the Bolts in time for their next home game -- Tuesday, Oct. 28, versus Arizona -- and make his NHL debut at Amalie Arena.
"Mostly, we just want him to get as close to having played NHL games as possible before throwing him into one," BriseBois said. "Usually, a player in his situation would have benefitted from preseason games. He didn't have that luxury, so now we're kind of giving him the second best thing to that which would be AHL regular season games at this time of year."
Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas did not practice with the Bolts Thursday morning but will make the trip to Vancouver with the team.
Gudas suffered a lower leg injury early this week and is day-to-day. After playing in the opening three games of the season, Gudas was held out of the Lightning's 2-1 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday.
Following the game, Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper indicated Gudas probably wouldn't play against Vancouver but would see action at some point on the Western Canada trip.
"Short-term thing," Cooper said at Tuesday's post-game presser. "…He'll be playing on the road trip for sure."