AVALANCHE (19-17-9) at LIGHTNING (28-14-4)
TV: ALT2, SUN
TAMPA -- Old friends and recent top draft picks will reunite at Amalie Arena on Saturday when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Colorado Avalanche.
Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin and Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon were linemates for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. MacKinnon was selected No. 1 in the 2013 NHL Draft and Drouin went two picks later.
Since going their separate ways, MacKinnon had 24 goals and 39 assists in the 2013-14 NHL season and became the youngest player to win the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie. Drouin spent the 2013-14 season with Halifax and made his NHL debut on Oct. 20, 2014.
This season, MacKinnon (eight goals, 17 assists) has become the focus of more opposing defenses and his scoring pace has suffered. However, Drouin said he's seen MacKinnon add elements to his game and expects he'll be looking to score Saturday.
"I'm sure he's not going to give me a lot of space on there and I'm going to try to do the same," Drouin said. "His skating is amazing; he dominated skating as a junior and he already has a step on the NHL guys."
Drouin (two goals, 16 assists) has been a work in progress for the Lightning (28-14-4). He's been placed on different lines and seen his ice time fluctuate from game to game. The hope is Drouin will eventually be the primary playmaker for Steven Stamkos.
MacKinnon said he expects Drouin to get there soon.
"He's a great player and he's got a lot of skill," MacKinnon said. "He can slow down the game to make the right play. I'm looking forward to playing against him. We used to talk about playing against each other when we were in juniors, and for it to happen at the age of 19 is pretty cool."
Each team will come into the game with some roster shakeups. The Avalanche (19-17-9) lost wing Borna Rendulic when he sustained a broken leg in a 4-2 win against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Rendulic will miss at least eight weeks, coach Patrick Roy told the Denver Post.
The Lightning will be without defenseman Matthew Carle until after the All-Star break, which ends Jan. 26. Defenseman Victor Hedman, who missed the past two games, is expected to return to the lineup after taking part in the optional skate Saturday. It was originally thought Hedman might be out until after the break.
"I felt good out there and everything went well, so I plan on playing tonight," Hedman said. "If I felt like I had any limitations I wouldn't play. I want to be 100 percent so I can play the game that I'm used to playing."
Here are the projected lineups:
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Matt Duchene
Alex Tanguay - Ryan O'Reilly- Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg
Maxime Talbot - Marc-Andre Cliche - Daniel Briere
Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson
Brad Stuart - Nick Holden
Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie
Scratched: Zach Redmond
Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Jesse Winchester (concussion), Ryan Wilson (shoulder surgery), Borna Rendulic (broken leg)
Alex Killorn – Steven Stamkos – Jonathan Drouin
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Cedric Paquette – Valtteri Filppula – Ryan Callahan
Brenden Morrow – Brian Boyle – Brett Connolly
Anton Stralman – Victor Hedman
Nikita Nesterov – Andrej Sustr
Jason Garrison – Mark Barberio
Scratched: J.T. Brown, Luke Witkowski
Injured: Radko Gudas (knee surgery), Matthew Carle (undisclosed)
Status report: Witkowski was called up from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League on Friday, and forward Vladislav Namestnikov was reassigned to the Crunch. … Cliche will replace Rendulic in the lineup and Mitchell will move to the third line.
Who's hot: Stamkos has four goals in the past three games. … Barrie had a goal and an assist in the win against the Panthers.