Tampa Bay Lightning forward Cedric Paquette wore a normal practice jersey Saturday for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury 11 days ago at Montreal, shedding the red no-contact jersey he sported the last two days.
Paquette is close to returning, but his status for the remainder of the Lightning homestand – Sunday vs. Boston, Tuesday against Florida and Thursday vs. Nashville – is in doubt.
“Maybe next week,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s not ready yet.”
Paquette was a bit more optimistic following the noon practice session, saying he thinks he could play either Tuesday or Thursday.
“On the ice, I don’t feel that much (discomfort), but I want to make sure that I’m 100 percent ready to go,” he said.
It’s important for Paquette to get into one of the final games on the Bolts’ current homestand with just 10 games left on the regular-season schedule.
“I want to play. It’s no fun when you’re on the bench and you can’t help the team,” said Paquette, who has scored 12 goals and added seven assists during his rookie season. “It’s frustrating. This time of the year, you want to play and you want to be ready for the playoffs.
DROUIN MOVING UP
During the second period of Tampa Bay’s 3-1 victory over Detroit, Cooper moved Jonathan Drouin up to the top line, shifted Ryan Callahan down to the third line and put J.T. Brown on the fourth line.
During Saturday’s practice, those revamped line combinations stuck.
In the locker room following the training session, Cooper had high praise for Drouin and his development over the course of his rookie season.
“A lot of things he wasn’t doing in the first three-quarters of the year, he’s starting to do now,” Cooper said. “He’s deserving. He’s earning his ice time that he’s getting.”
Drouin’s playmaking ability set up the Lightning’s game-winning goal on Friday. The 19-year-old skated into the Detroit zone and pressured the Red Wings’ goal to create space before dropping a pass into the right circle for Victor Hedman, who dished to Alex Killorn for the goal and a 2-1 score midway through the third.
“(Drouin’s) learned the pro game and he’s learned the way we play and he’s finding himself on the right side of pucks now and he’s made a conscious effort and choice to work his way up the lineup,” Cooper said. “His effort’s been outstanding. He’s listening. He’s been soaking up the game and it’s actually been a lot of fun to watch this kid grow.”