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Jonathan Drouin and the puzzle of the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning lineup

Some have him making a mess of the NHL on Steven Stamkos' wing from day one of his NHL career, while the M.O. of the Lightning organization at current gives players time to develop. Does Drouin fit in the Lightning lineup for 2013-14?

Bruce Bennett

It's pretty straightforward that the Lightning grabbed one of the top rated prospects from the 2013 NHL draft in Halifax Mooseheads wing Jonathan Drouin. With some talking about him being the eventual replacement for Martin St. Louis (...which doesn't exactly translate, as Marty is a right wing and Drouin is a left wing), Drouin's presence in the organization is a long-term move, as any draft selection should be perceived as.

While Lightning fans are adjusting to the world of tomorrowseason and the depth Tampacuse has to offer (proving how player development will pay off), the perception out there is that Drouin is in the lineup for Tampa Bay from day one.

Is he though?

A couple of months ago, I did a story ridiculing a long-read about Seth Jones that some broad generalizations about the Lightning in 2013. Tampa Bay needed offense in the draft (or so their narrative was laid out) and therefore they took Drouin. The Lightning offense was never the problem in 2013 though, its defense was: 5-12-4 in one-goal games, 3-11 in 2 goal games, 10-3 in games that had a three-goal (or more) differential. This, and a -2 goal differential for the entire 48-game season and their bottom-of-the-league finish says the Bolts could score - but couldn't protect a lead.

This isn't about need-versus-want or Jones-over-Drouin; this is about impact and fitting pieces together. It's about trying to gauge player development and where they fit.

The perception I personally had going into the 2013 NHL draft was that anyone selected by the Lightning - be it Drouin, Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Barkov, Valeri Nichushkin, or anyone else would likely not play in the NHL this year unless they flat out wowed and earned their spot, clearly outplaying the likes of NHL'ers-in-waiting like Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, Mark Barberio, Tyler Johnson, etc. Even then, they may be forced to go back to Junior or the KHL (with thanks to waiver limits on players the team might want to keep around). That's a testament about where the Bolts system is with depth and talent. Its issues of 2013 aren't entirely personnel related.

The same type of situation could have played out in 2008-09 with a rookie forward by the name of Steven Stamkos, but the organization had marketed Steven to high-hell and not prepared him properly for year-one of his NHL career. Former owner Len Barrie tried to trade him because Stamkos wasn't ready out-of-the-box for the NHL game (to think, he'd need to be coached and taught something!).

Of course, the personal instruction by former assistant Wes Walz did wonders for Stamkos, who turned around and began wowing the NHL. That approach - coaching - is probably the big difference in comparisons between Stamkos and Drouin; Drouin is walking into a situation where the organization knows that knowledge and training are keys to preparation and development, whereas previous management didn't afford these things to their prized rookie in the summer of 2008.

Another issue that exists in the Lightning lineup that plays into Drouin's rookie season is that the top-six roles are pretty much filled, yet that's exactly where Drouin is expected to excel:

Ryan Malone - Steven Samos - Martin St. Louis
Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Teddy Purcell

It's the third line that really seems in a state of flux, with pressure from prospects (Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Brett Connolly and others) for perhaps two roster spots. The one seeming lock on the third line is Tom Pyatt, who has played well for the club.

Would slotting the 18-year-old Drouin on the agitator line really be a wise choice?

Some are probably still reacting to my top-line combination that included Ryan Malone on left wing. For all of his drawbacks, Ryan brings something to that trio that Drouin wouldn't - size and grit. Of course, that grit has a tendency to send him to injured reserve, which is where the team's depth at forward comes in with Panik or Connolly (or another more physical player) rounding out the chemistry between Stamkos and St. Louis.

The other top-six option is to drop Killorn to the third line, cente ring (or playing wing) with Drouin filling the 2nd line opening created through such. I have to admit that this is an option and something head coach Jon Cooper will likely kick around.

The point here is, pending a roster move; it's not such a cut-and-dried case of Jonathan Drouin playing in Tampa this season. If he does, he could wind up in a role that people didn't pencil him in for. That role itself would likely be to develop his all-around game. If the guarantee of minutes isn';t there for Drouin, though, don't be shocked if he is returned to the Mooseheads for another year of growth.