NEW YORK -- After sitting the past three games as a healthy scratch, New York Rangers forward Anthony Duclair returns to the lineup Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Duclair, who was on a line with Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin at the morning skate, will play in place of Jesper Fast. Forward Lee Stempniak was moved to the fourth line with Tanner Glass and Dominic Moore.
"I'm not used to sitting," Duclair said. "It's definitely new for me. It's a process you have to go through as a young guy coming into the League. You can see throughout the League some guys sit out and it's alright. They have time to develop. For myself, I have to make sure when I'm in there I have to make an impact."
Duclair is tied for seventh among NHL rookies in assists (five) and eighth in plus-minus (plus-four), and has a point in five of the 12 games he's played this season. But the evaluation period on the 19-year-old is ongoing. What he learned from sitting is playing without the puck and the need to improve his battles along the wall.
"For a winger, sometimes [opposing] 'D' are pinching a lot so you have to read sometimes whether they are coming or not and make the right plays," Duclair said. "I'm excited to get going. I've been watching form upstairs learning a few things, learning from some veterans, watching some video and I'm ready to go [Monday]. "
Exactly how to handle Duclair, 19, has been a topic of debate around the Rangers. He is too young to play in the American Hockey League, so if the Rangers reassign him, he'll have to be sent back to Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and won't be eligible to return to the NHL until next season.
"You're in the NHL at 19 years old, I'm definitely not complaining," Duclair said. "I'd rather be here than in juniors playing first line, that's for sure.
"I think it's better for me to stay up here. To be honest, it doesn't matter if I'm not playing every game. Practicing with these type of players every day and being around a pro environment definitely will help me in the future. I think if I go back to junior I don't have much to prove there anymore."
The Rangers are hoping Duclair's speed will be an asset against a Lightning team (12-4-2) three points out of first place in the Atlantic Division and leading the League with 66 goals. Tampa Bay's 5-2 win Saturday against the New York Islanders snapped a two-game losing streak and moved its record to 7-1-1 in its past nine games.
"Tampa is playing real well in our conference," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "They're definitely one of the teams that's moving up. They've got some great youth with a lot of talent and skill. It will be a tough opponent for us."
Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin returns after sitting out the win Saturday as a healthy scratch. Drouin has one goal in 12 games, but coach Jon Cooper's lineup decisions have been based on a numbers game rather than performance.
Cedric Paquette, who has five goals in his past five games, was shifted to the fourth line. J.T. Brown will sit out for the Lightning.
"This is a tough situation, because probably if you ask coaches guys get pulled out because they're playing poorly," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We're just having to pull guys out … nobody's giving us an excuse to come out, so at some point here we're probably going to have to rotate a little bit, so [Brown] is out [Monday]."
Here are the projected lineups:
Valtteri Filppula – Steven Stamkos – Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Jonathan Drouin – Vladislav Namestnikov – Alex Killorn
Brenden Morrow – Brian Boyle - Cedric Paquette
Matthew Carle – Anton Stralman
Andrej Sustr – Mark Barberio
Jason Garrison – Radko Gudas
Scratched: J.T. Brown, Eric Brewer
Injured: Victor Hedman (fractured finger), Brett Connolly (lower body)
Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Martin St. Louis
Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Anthony Duclair
Tanner Glass – Dominic Moore – Lee Stempniak
Marc Staal – Dan Boyle
John Moore – Dan Girardi
Matt Hunwick – Kevin Klein
Scratched: Jesper Fast
Injured: Ryan McDonagh (shoulder)
Status report: McDonagh still isn't skating, but Vigneault expects him to return to the ice sometime this week. Veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle was released from his Professional Tryout Agreement with Hartford of the AHL on Monday after he had two assists and four shots on goal in two games. Kaberle rejected an offer to remain in Hartford and will not be signing with the Rangers. Barberio is back in the Lightning lineup in place of Brewer.
Who's hot: Stamkos has points in five straight games (three goals, three assists) and eight of his past nine (five goals, six assists). … Johnson has 17 points (five goals, 13 assists) in his past 15 games. … Kucherov has six goals and 13 points in his past 11. … Callahan has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his past five. … Nash has points in his past three games (one goal, four assists). … St. Louis has seven points (five goals, two assists) in his past seven and is six points from 1,000 in his career. … Brassard has points in six of his past nine and 10 of his past 15 games.