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Lightning's Cooper won't rush Drouin

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie forward Jonathan Drouin saying, as he did Tuesday according to the Tampa Bay Times, that he hopes to be ready to play in the season-opener next week isn't enough to convince coach Jon Cooper that he should rush him into action.

Drouin hasn't played in the preseason because of a fractured right thumb. The Lightning open the season Oct. 9 against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena.

"He hasn't even started practicing with us yet," Cooper said in a phone interview Wednesday. "He skates around, but he can't touch pucks. We're about a week away from opening night. Do the math in that respect. He may be ready but I just don't know if he'll be game-ready to play."

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Cooper said he hasn't seen enough of Drouin competing against NHL players yet. He has to see that before he puts Drouin in the lineup.

"I've seen him in the rookie tournament and he did some really good things in the rookie tournament, but there is a huge jump from that to playing with our guys," Cooper said. "In saying that, the stuff I saw in the rookie tournament this year, it looks like he's leaner, he's added a step and he has more command of his game. It was really good to see. The great thing is we have him in the wings but I don't think there is any rush to just throw him on the wing with [Steven] Stamkos and let him go. We don't need to do that. We can play him all over the place and let him get NHL ready, and it takes time for guys."

Once Drouin is able to play, Cooper said he might start him on the third line, perhaps with Tyler Johnson as the center. Johnson was a finalist for the Calder Trophy last season, when he played first-line minutes for three-quarters of the season because Stamkos was out with a broken leg.

Johnson, who had 50 points in 82 games last season, either will be Tampa Bay's third-line center or a top-six wing because Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula are the top-two centers.

"[Drouin] wouldn't be playing with pluggers," Cooper said.

It's possible that Brian Boyle, who signed a three-year contract with the Lightning on July 1, could be on the wing on the third line as well. Cooper has been impressed with Boyle in training camp and is excited about his versatility, particularly because he can play fourth-line center or third-line wing.

"He's good on draws, penalty killing, and if you need a guy to stand in front of the net on the power play he can do that," Cooper said of Boyle.

The Lightning were 19th in the League in faceoffs last season at 49.2 percent and 23rd in penalty killing at 80.7 percent. Boyle won 52.9 percent of the faceoffs he took last season (306 of 578), and the New York Rangers were third on the PK at 85.3 percent.

"You want to spread your ice around and have guys in different roles because if I don't Boyle will be playing 35 minutes a game if I put him in all these spots," Cooper said. "He's a piece to the puzzle for sure, something I don't know if we've had just because of his sheer size (6-foot-7, 244 pounds) and strength and all those things. His ability to win faceoffs is huge for us because we were lacking that last year on a consistent basis."

Cooper also thinks Anton Stralman, another former Ranger who signed with the Lightning in the summer, could be a natural right-side partner for Victor Hedman.

"You kind of think you know what you have, and then you get behind the bench and he's an eye-opening defenseman," Cooper said. "I think he's a sneakier offensive talent than his statistics have shown in the past."

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