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MacKinnon: Drouin earned his top-prospect status

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

NEW YORK -- Nathan MacKinnon knows a little something about how to excel as a rookie in the NHL.

He did it in 2013-14 as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, leading all first-year players in points (63) and tying for first in goals (24) en route to winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

MacKinnon is pretty confident that Jonathan Drouin, his former linemate with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is ready to take a similar path with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014-15.

Drouin was voted the No. 1 NHL prospect on NHL.com's Top 60 prospect ranking, released Tuesday.

"I don't see a lot of junior-hockey highlights now but I'm on Twitter and noticed he was tearing it up," MacKinnon said of Drouin. "He had some sick games and I watched the highlights online. I still try and follow the Mooseheads whenever I can."

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Drouin will be hoping to land a spot in Tampa Bay this season out of training camp. It's something MacKinnon, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft, did with the Avalanche last season.

"I think he's a true prospect at 19 years old," MacKinnon said of Drouin. "Coming into the League, he's so skilled and he definitely deserves to be the No. 1-ranked prospect. I think he's going to have a heck of a year playing either wing or center; whatever he plays, he'll excel. I'm really excited to watch him."

MacKinnon and Drouin played key roles in helping Halifax to the first Memorial Cup championship in franchise history in 2013 by combining for eight goals and 22 points in four tournament games. That came after they combined for 23 goals and 68 points in 17 QMJHL playoff games.

Drouin was named the Canadian Hockey League player of the year after he had 41 goals and 105 points in 49 regular-season games in 2012-13. Despite that success, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman returned Drouin to Halifax for 2013-14 immediately after training camp, and he had 29 goals and 108 points in 46 games.

While Drouin went back to junior hockey, MacKinnon emerged as an NHL star. However, he knows their roles could have been reversed.

"If I got sent down it would be a similar situation and I'm sure he was frustrated," MacKinnon said. "I'm sure he trained very hard over the summer to make the team. [Tampa Bay] kind of hinted before the season that they had their minds made up, that they would send him back. They were saying they want to be patient with their prospects. I feel like if he got that nine-game trial in last year he would have made the team. I was very surprised he got sent down. I thought he should have made the team."

MacKinnon, who still keeps in close contact with Drouin, said it would be pretty special to have an opportunity to play against his former teammate in a regular-season game this season. The teams play twice, at Tampa Bay on Jan. 17 and at Colorado on Feb. 22.

"As long as we're both healthy, to have an opportunity to play against each other would be pretty cool," he said. "If we do, it'll be neat to get a picture during the game with both of us on the ice. That would be a cool memory."

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