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The long road for Drouin; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Washington Capitals preview

The process of becoming a more complete player is a tough task for a 19 year old.

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Jonathan Drouin is a healthy scratch tonight. It's not something to blame on him or management for that matter.
Jonathan Drouin is a healthy scratch tonight. It's not something to blame on him or management for that matter.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Where:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media:  (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Japers' Rink, Russian Machine Never Breaks

There was talk before the season, riding on the 2013 NHL draft hype, of Jonathan Drouin being a Calder Award candidate as NHL rookie of the year. There was nothing left for him to gain in the junior ranks and his ascent to the NHL was guaranteed unless one road bump or another came up. That road bump could be seen as his thumb-fracture during prospect camp, but it hasn't stopped him from contributing to the Lightning.

The diligence of slow going by team management, however, has slowed him down. Drouin's NHL debut had him planted on the top line with Steven Stamkos (with thanks to injuries having banged up other contributing wings on the Lightning roster). His position on the roster has been a descent since that time, from the top line, to the third line, to the fourth, and to the press box at time now - he'll be a healthy scratch tonight against the Washington Capitals.

Why, though? What's the point in having such a high caliber offensive talent playing a role that limits his contributions and doesn't play up to his abilities? Why box him in with the blue-collar role players and not the other offensive forces of the roster? The answer is pretty simple and pretty clear, but it's not a sexy thing for fans who just care about the lamp being lit: It's to complete his game, to make him a better hockey player and build up his on-ice versatility. He's full of skill and that much is a fact... What skill has been pushed on everyone is his offensive prowess... It's been stressed in his career so far.

There are still things to learn in the game, and it's not like Lightning fans haven't seen this before - high profile players put into what looks like a rough situation. Vincent Lecavalier was at war with John Tortorella in part because Torts wanted more out of Vinny, while Vinny wanted to play his way, which he had been encouraged to from juniors through his early pro years.

The Lightning's desire, under GM Steve Yzerman, to hone top prospect talent has been on display since 2010 with Brett Connolly, who went through the same process with the club in 2011-12. 2011 1st round draft pick Vladislav Namestnikov has also seen his slow and deliberate rise to the NHL (finishing his junior career and then playing a majority of a season in Syracuse of the AHL before being called up late last season). Slate Koekkoek and Andrei Vasilevskiy are the next pair of 1st round picks on the slow, deliberate rise; playing for the Crunch this season (though expectations suggest Vasilevskiy may see time in the NHL if he proves ready for it).

Maybe this is why Jonathan Drouin will seriously be an option for Team Canada at the 2015 World Junior Tournament in the coming weeks: It'll guarantee him playing time and also boost his confidence to dominate those games. What it doesn't mean is that the diligence from management will wane upon his return. The objective for Drouin is to be the most complete player possible, and pushing for him to learn now when there's less pressure is a lot better than years in the future after having goal-scoring alone made out to be his objective during games.

J.T. Brown will replace Drouin in the lineup tonight. He's another cog of the Bolts organizational depth that's been forced to watch games from the press box instead of contribute. His style of play has been more suitable for the bottom-6.

The one side effect of Tampa Bay's loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday was it allowed the Detroit Red Wings to catch up with the Bolts in the standings. Tampa Bay and Detroit are now tied with 39 points each. Detroit is 8-2-0 in their past 10 games in fact...

The Lightning aren't playing Detroit tonight, though, they're playing their old adversary, the Washington Capitals.  The Caps and New York Rangers are battling it out for the third spot in the Metro Division standings.  While Alex Ovechkin is playing a much more complete game this season (12 goals, 9 assists, only a minus-1 as compared to years past) the Caps 28 points and 12-10-4 record pales in comparison to what we usually expect from DC.

But, as Jon Cooper said Saturday, standings don't mean s-with-a-t... The games have to be played and you can't expect the opponent to play at a level their place in the standing reflects.

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