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Fortier more confident, comfortable in impressing Lightning

Forward prospect credits AHL experience with helping him identify areas that need improvement

by Corey Long / Correspondent

BRANDON, Fla. -- Gabriel Fortier noticed how much different his second development camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning felt compared to his first.

That includes the 19-year-old forward, selected in the second round (No. 59) of the 2018 NHL Draft, no longer feeling the nerves and pressure of trying to impress Lightning management like he did a year ago.

"It's less stressful," Fortier said. "Last year, I didn't know anyone, and you kind of just want to learn. But this year, I'm more comfortable and focused on the little details in the drills that [we were] doing with power skating and stick-handling."

The increased confidence, combined with having 83 points (35 goals, 48 assists) in 68 games last season with Baie-Comeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, should help Fortier (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) in his upward climb as a professional.

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Fortier finished the season with Syracuse of the American Hockey League, where he had no points in four regular-season games and played in one playoff game.

"It was really good for me to play with Syracuse and get a taste of what I need to do to improve my game [this] season to make the step," he said. "Everybody says that it's faster and the guys are bigger, but to hear it and then play against it, it was a really big difference. It was good to see with my own eyes."

Fortier, who likely will head back to the QMJHL for one more season, impressed the Lightning with his progress, work ethic and the skills he showed at development camp in late June.

Lightning director of player development Stacy Roest said Fortier has made noticeable strides in the past year.

"He's a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, good speed, good skill," Roest said. "We're very excited with where he's at. He works hard. Every one of the coaches and teammates we talk to … pick someone you would go to war with and he's one of the guys.

"He came to Syracuse late to play some games and he held his own. Obviously, in the playoffs we were healthy and had other options, but they were happy with how he did."

Fortier knows he will have to continue improve his game to further his hopes of playing in the NHL. As motivation he can look to Tampa Bay's history of success with undersized forwards, highlighted by Hockey Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis (5-8, 180).

"In the NHL right now, you have to skate and make quick decisions, so I think these sessions on the ice help a lot," Fortier said. "Working with (skating coach) Barb [Underhill] and improving my skating is going to help that. I also know I need to improve my skills and definitely work on improving my shot. That will make getting to the next level easier."

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