Out of 25 games played by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Cedric Paquette has already missed 13 games to injury and Jonathan Drouin has missed 11 of his own. While Syracuse Crunch regulars Jonathan Marchessault, Mike Blunden, and Joel Vermin have filled in rather nicely for the injured forwards (plus Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat), they still aren't a complete replacement for what Drouin and Paquette bring to the forward corps.
We all know what Jonathan Drouin is capable of when he's getting top line minutes. All 6 of his points came in the first five games of the season when he was partnered with center Steven Stamkos and right winger Ryan Callahan (1 goal, 5 assists, plus-4). The line had shown some real promise with Callahan capable of making space for the other two, Drouin dishing the puck around and entering the zone cleanly, and Stamkos finishing off chances.
Then, we saw that line start to get broken up in the on 10/24 in Chicago, a 1-0 overtime loss. Then the 10/27 against Dallas was the last time we saw that trio together for any significant time. Through the first 9 games, Drouin had been getting 14-15 minutes of ice time with his lowest being an 11:59 performance against Buffalo on the back side of a back-to-back.
Then Drouin's first injury hit him. He missed five games and came back to play against the Minnesota Wild on November 7th. He played three more games before getting sidelined again and has now missed six games (and counting.) After that 6-point start to the season, he's had no points and is a minus-2. He's still doubtful to return Wednesday, but could make his return sometime on the Lightning's road trip through California.
There is some question about if he has lost his confidence. It may be beneficial to him and the team to send him down to Syracuse for a couple of games to regain his mojo. However, I think what the team would need to do to build him up is to tell him, "Go down there, play hard, play 20 minutes a night and on the power play. When you get back, you're going to be back to playing with Stamkos on the top line." And hopefully that will get him back on track as well as being 100% healthy as he may have come back too early from his first injury.
Paquette, on the other end of the spectrum, just can't seem to get back into playing shape. He injured his foot/ankle in the preseason blocking a shot and has had several setbacks along the way. I think this time the team is taking it slow and being more conservative with him so that he can be back to 100%. When he's at his best, he's a wrecking ball using his speed to be a pain and hard to play against. If he's being tentative because he's still hurt, he's not going to be nearly as effective.
While J.T. Brown has stepped up and assumed much of the role that Paquette fills for the club, the team is better when both players are on top of their game and being competitive in the bottom-6. Paquette only had 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist), but that's not the complete picture with him. He's averaging 2.3 hits per game with Ryan Callahan and Jonathan Marchessaultt being the only other regular players on the team in the same area.
I can't say enough about what Jonathan Marchessault has brought to the team while the forward corps has been depleted by injuries. He's making a case to stay in the NHL and making the most of his opportunities right now. Joel Vermin, Mike Blunden, and Tye McGinn have also filled in well in the bottom line when called upon.
None of these guys quite match up to the upside and skill that Drouin and Paquette bring to the Lightning. The sooner they get back into the game, the better for the BOlts.