TAMPA — Jonathan Drouin’s nerves fluttered Tuesday morning before he stepped onto the Forum ice, but not because he was wearing Lightning garb in his future home arena for the first time since being selected with the third overall pick in the June draft.
Instead, Drouin admitted to feeling a few butterflies when he met Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos — his potential linemates when Tampa Bay opens the season Oct. 3 in Boston — for the first time.
“Marty has pretty much been a legend in the NHL now for a long time, and Stamkos ...” Drouin said, his thoughts trailing off. “So, obviously, there are nerves and you don’t want to do something bad.”
Drouin took part in an informal skate with 17 other Lightning players. He will report today for a two-day rookie training camp in Tampa that shifts to Coral Springs this weekend for three games against teams from Nashville, Boston and Florida. The rookie tournament precedes the start of Lightning training camp next week.
For Drouin and 24 other Lightning prospects and invitees taking part, the rookie camp is the first step in the process of trying to reach the NHL. But the spotlight for the next five days will be on the 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward many pundits have already penciled into the team’s opening-night lineup.
Drouin, 18, missed some training this summer and sat out Canada’s junior evaluation camp because of a left foot injury, a hairline fracture from a puck. But the injury has fully healed, he said, and doesn’t hamper his skating. With the injury and the hype of the draft behind him, he’s ready to get back to business.
“It’s going to be a hard tournament from what I’ve heard, people trying to get to main camp and stuff like that,’’ Drouin said. “There are going to be a lot of tough battles. ... It’s been a long summer of waiting, and I was anxious to get back here.’’
The Lightning hope Drouin proves to be a dominant player in all aspects of his game while going up against many of his peers.
“He’s always been a top offensive player, and putting up numbers has always been a part of him being a good player,’’ Lightning director of scouting Al Murray said. “So, we are looking for him to be creative offensively. We are looking for him to be a two-way player, because he’s (been) a pretty responsible two-way player. And we feel we have a pretty smart player here, so we are not looking for a one-way player.’’
Over the course of the past two years, Drouin showed he could elevate his game when presented with a challenge. Whether it was making the jump to Major Junior, earning a spot as a 17-year-old on Canada’s World Junior team or helping lead Halifax to the Memorial Cup championship, Drouin made his mark.
The next step, however, will be his most challenging as he enters his first NHL training camp looking to earn a roster spot with the Lightning.
“Now, you are working with men and against men, and that’s a whole other step,’’ Murray said. “Some guys handle it well. Other guys aren’t ready for it. But we are hoping he’s one of the guys that can handle it. That’s still to be seen.’’