To keep or not to keep that is the question the Lightning face regarding top pick Jonathan Drouin. As Tampa Bay heads into the final preseason game Saturday against Florida at BB&T Center the roster is on the verge of being finalized. But it’s not there yet. Competition has been close among forwards vying for spots and several things factor into the decision of whether to keep Drouin with the team or send him back to Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. If Drouin the third overall pick in the 2013 draft is sent back to his junior club he must remain there for the entire season. Tampa Bay does not have to make that decision until Drouin plays in his ninth game for the Lightning. But if he appears in 10 games the clock on his entry-level contract will begin allowing Drouin to be a restricted free agent after three years. “Playing in (junior) leagues it’s good hockey it really is’’ Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. “It’s not the end of the world if a player has to go back but we certainly want to give him every opportunity before making that because it is final. “Mostly we want him playing. And if he’s not going to play regular (in the NHL) I want him playing. I don’t really have a timetable on it’s because we do have the luxury ...to stagger their games and delay it for as long as you really want. So it’s not like we are under a time crunch or anything.’’ Drouin will get another chance to showcase his game in the preseason finale playing on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. It’s been a steady progression for the 18-year-old who started training camp in lower-line role and learned the defensive side of the game at center. Eventually he moved back to the wing and joined the top line playing with Stamkos in Tuesday’s game in Nashville and with St. Louis on Thursday against Florida. “You definitely want to seem him improve and I think (Thursday) was probably the best game he has played with us’’ Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “And it’s baby steps. He’s 18 and he’s just trying to get his feel and as any 18-year-old he’s trying to survive.
Bolts face choice regarding top draft-pick Drouin
Tampa Tribune | Sep 28