Injury doesn't change Bolts' plan for phenom Jonathan Drouin

While this training camp and preseason was to have been quite important for prized prospect Jonathan Drouin, his injury doesn't really change the plan the Tampa Bay Lightning have for the talented forward.

"It just delays things a little bit is all," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman told ESPN.com.

Drouin is out three to four weeks with a right thumb fracture, shelving the 19-year-old for what would have been a busy preseason.

"Obviously, we want him to play. We have six preseason games, and our hope had been to see him in at least five of them, to give him as much time as possible to get acclimated," said Yzerman. "And regardless of how the preseason games went, [the plan was to] let him start the regular season and see how he does then really let his play dictate with who and how much he plays.

"We're going to stick to that. It's not a major injury. It doesn't require surgery. It just needs time to heal. He'll be able to skate and workout and train. He'll get plenty of opportunity once the season starts."

At the very least, Drouin will get that nine-game window the collective bargaining agreement allows before teams must decide whether to send players back to junior. Honestly, I would be really surprised if Drouin doesn't make the team and play all season in Tampa.

After all, even his demotion a year ago caught some people off guard, especially in the context of seeing his 2013 first-round peers such as Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones, Sean Monahan and Valeri Nichushkin all have impact rookie seasons while he was sent back to junior for another year.

While Drouin struggled at first after going back to Halifax in terms of accepting his situation, he lit it up, as one would expect, to the tune of 108 points (29-79) in 46 games.

"I think they made the right choice last year. He came back and dominated," said a Quebec-based NHL scout from another organization who watched Drouin play many games last season. "It helped his development. Sometimes in today's game, you've got teams trying to make men out of teenagers before they're ready. You can't always do it. Drouin found out at Tampa's camp last year what he needed to work on at the NHL level. He went back to junior and worked on those specific areas. He's a more mature player now, and he's confident he can do it at the NHL level. It was a good decision, I think, by Tampa to send him back.

"Honestly, he's not that far from Nathan MacKinnon in terms of skill and finesse," added the scout. "Everyone thinks he's way behind because of what happened last year, but Drouin is going to be a heck of a player for them. Like MacKinnon, they're both going to have great careers."

MacKinnon, his former linemate in Halifax, won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year last season with Colorado while Drouin stayed in junior.

But now Drouin will get his chance in the big leagues, even if delayed by the injury for now.

"He's one year older, he had an excellent season, he went through a lot at first being sent back to junior," said Yzerman. "It's tough with these high draft picks with so much attention on them. Every team’s situation is unique to them. A year ago, we had a bunch of young kids including Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson; we were moving a bunch of young guys into the lineup, and we wanted them to play."

In that regard, Drouin was a victim of a numbers game in Tampa Bay with all these kids making their way in, young players with more experience. Palat and Johnson were both nominated for the Calder Trophy last season, as if to underline the point.

Drouin, meanwhile, grew last season, despite not being where he wanted to be -- in the NHL.

"Being a captain of a team and taking on even more responsibility was an adjustment which he handled well," said Yzerman. "Being the captain of the Canadian national junior team was a great experience for him. Even going down the stretch, we watched him play; he was used in more situations.

"What we really loved was his commitment to the effort at both ends of the rink. He was on the penalty kill, taking faceoffs, playing center -- so, just greater responsibility. We saw him come into camp this year, and his fitness numbers were outstanding. He's obviously put in a lot of work. He's a year more mature physically and mentally. He's very well prepared to come in here. He had a tremendous last 12 months. Everything he's gone through on and off the ice, he's been awesome."

Aside from the glut of young players who were breaking into Tampa Bay's lineup a year ago, there was also the fact that Drouin a year ago was basically just a season and a half out of midget hockey. The kid had rocketed up the ranks. It was another reason Tampa Bay felt it could hold him back a year.

"He came a long way fast," said Yzerman. "Looking back, had we kept him, as the year went on I'm sure he would have been fine. But we would have taken one of these other kids out of the lineup. We just didn't have the spots for it. We had to make a decision at that time, and I didn't want to drag it out. Again, I don't think it hurt Jonathan a bit going back for a year. Everything he experienced last year was beneficial for him."