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Lightning's Drouin gains confidence on Stamkos line

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- When Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin entered training camp last month, he wanted to put a rocky rookie season behind him.

Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, missed all of camp last season with a fractured thumb and started 2014-15 with a weekend's worth of rehab games for Syracuse of the American Hockey League before joining the Lightning in mid-October.

Despite playing 70 regular-season games and six in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Drouin didn't seem to fit in to the plans of coach Jon Cooper. Drouin had four goals and 28 assists but couldn't find a consistent line and was on the bench more times than not during the postseason.

"There were a lot of things going on last season, but I learned a lot from this team and this coaching staff," Drouin said. "Everyone's going to say that when you're in not in the lineup it's frustrating, but it was a good team last year and we were winning with the lineup we had. You always want to be in the lineup to help the team, but that wasn't my decision, so I just had to be ready when I got in."

Drouin spent much of the offseason making sure that he would not have a repeat of last year. The 20-year-old went to Montreal and worked on his strength and conditioning. Drouin came into training camp at full health and has looked promising; he led the Lightning with eight points (four goals and four assists) in their seven preseason games.

"He's looked confident with the puck," Cooper said. "He's got wonderful skills and it's a lot of fun to watch."

Cooper said many of Drouin's struggles last season came from his youth and making the jump from Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to the NHL.

"Things were going pretty fast around him [last year]," Cooper said. "This is not an easy league. It seems like he has come back on a little bit of a mission and it's good to see."

Drouin has been given more responsibility. He is expected to be a major part of the Lightning power play this season as Cooper and new assistant coach Brad Lauer work to make that unit more productive.

Drouin also has played with captain Steven Stamkos for much of camp and likely will start the season on the top line. Last season, Stamkos scored 43 goals without much consistency on his line. Drouin considers himself a pass-first player (he had 79 assists in 46 games in his final season with Halifax) and said he hopes to be the playmaking wing Stamkos is looking for.

"[Stamkos] is a great teammate and a great leader, that's why he's got the 'C'," Drouin said. "He brings that tremendous work ethic to the rink and he's one of the top players in the game. I know if I put the passes where they are supposed to be, there's a very good chance he's going to put it in the back of the net."

With expectations surrounding the Lightning growing as the Oct. 8 season opener against the Philadelphia Flyers approaches -- Tampa Bay is ranked No. 1 in the preseason Super 16 -- Drouin said he doesn't feel any additional pressure.

"I feel more confident in the system and what I need to do," Drouin said. "I'm much more ready for this season as compared to last year when I wasn't doing very much because of the injury. This year I know I'll be in a position to help the team immediately."

Drouin said he models his game after Peter Forsberg, who won the Stanley Cup twice with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001 and the Hart Trophy in the 2002-03 season.

Drouin loves to be the set-up man even though the coaches have asked him to take more shots. He said the biggest adjustment in his jump from junior to the NHL was dealing with the strength and physicality of professional players.

"It was a major change because I was one of the older guys in the juniors and you go to the NHL where guys are in their 20s and 30s and a lot stronger," Drouin (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) said. "But I've seen a lot and learned a lot. I feel like I've done what I needed to do to prepare for this season."

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