ANTIOCH, Tenn. -- Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin still looks every bit as young as his 19 years of age. In fact, the third pick of the 2013 NHL Draft might be hard-pressed to grow a Stanley Cup Playoff beard if his team makes it that far.
But the team sees Drouin as older, wiser and more mature as he prepares for his second training camp.
"The one thing I've noticed with him so far is how mature he is with the puck, the way he plays, his demeanor. Even the way his body looks," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The more I see him the more I know how he has progressed and that we did the right thing. I'm really excited to see him in camp."
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Drouin, No. 1 on NHL.com's ranking of the Top 60 prospects in the League, was disappointed not to make the NHL last season, instead going back to his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
His regular-season point totals in 2013-14 (108 in 46 games) were similar to the previous season, when he had 105 in 49 games, which indicated a let-down from his return to junior.
Those hurt feelings were gone by the spring. He had 41 points in 16 games for the Mooseheads in the QMJHL playoffs and flashed the slick playmaking and scoring that made him such a coveted player in the 2013 draft.
"The playoffs were coming. The level of the games was a bit higher. All the guys were preparing for the playoffs where your game steps up," Drouin said. "Maybe that helped me stat-wise."
No matter the reason for Drouin's sudden offensive spike, the Lightning were thrilled that he was able to re-establish his form and score at such a prolific rate at a key time of the season.
"You don't have to necessarily show me what you're doing in September," Cooper said. "Show me what you're doing in April and May. He was at two-and-a-half points per game in the playoffs. You can't really ask much more than that. He's progressing just fine and we're excited to have him."
The team Drouin may join this season will be a completely different squad than the one that drafted him. In 2012-13 the Lightning were 28th in the League standings and seemed to be in transition from former coach Guy Boucher to Cooper. Last season the Lightning had the third-best record in the Eastern Conference with 101 points.
"The team is going upwards and in an up direction," Drouin said. "Maybe it makes a little room and some space for me to play."
And after the trade of Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan, there's a spot open for a high-scoring winger to play among the top-six forwards. The trade of St. Louis had little to do with Drouin, but the Lightning were fortunate that they had a younger player with a similar skill set ready to step in.
"I would say it [Drouin] had zero to do with the trade," Cooper said. "But the irony of the situation is that we probably have a player waiting in the wings that has the elite talent level that Marty has. They’re both left-handed [shots], they both can play either wing. They're both extremely great passers. It's pretty easy to draw the conclusion that that's someone who could be Marty's heir apparent."
Still, Drouin has to get through training camp and make the team. All indications are that he will, but he's not taking anything for granted this season.
"Last year you don't know what to expect and what will happen," he said. "But my confidence level is higher than last year. Since this camp has started I see a big difference already from last year. So far, so good."