Looking to make the leap: Jonathan Drouin

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Jonathan Drouin was disappointed he didn’t crack Lightning roster last year, and it’s easy to understand why.

The third overall pick at the 2013 NHL Entry draft, Drouin was returned to QMJHL Halifax while his Mooseheads teammate — Nathan MacKinnon, taken first overall — stuck with Colorado and had a dazzling rookie campaign, scoring 24 goals and 63 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy.

What’s more, Drouin was the only one of the top six picks that didn’t make his NHL debut last season. Though he was lauded as an “incredible talent” by GM Steve Yzerman, the organization thought another year of seasoning in junior would serve Drouin well.

“As the year went on, Jonathan got better and better,” Yzerman said in July, per the Tampa Tribune. “When he went back, he was like the No. 1 penalty killer, ran the power play, played in all situations.

“He was dominating at both ends of the rink.”

Clearly, things went well for Drouin at the junior level. Now the Bolts will see if their strategy pays off in the bigs.

It’s expected that Drouin will have a job in Tampa Bay come October. Yzerman jettisoned a trio of veteran forwards prior to July 1’s free agent frenzy (Teddy Purcell, Nate Thompson and B.J. Crombeen), bought out the remainder of Ryan Malone’s contract and didn’t re-up with the likes of Tom Pyatt and Dana Tyrell. It’s also tough to think Drouin would gain much from going back to junior, and he isn’t eligible to play with AHL Syracuse.

So the opportunity in Tampa Bay is there, but Drouin will have competition. Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn are entrenched at Drouin’s preferred left wing spot, and it’s possible someone could shift over from the crowded RW situation (where Ryan Callahan, Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, J.T. Brown and Brett Connolly currently top the depth chart.)

Another thing to consider is Tampa Bay’s “no rush” mentality. The club has been very deliberate in bringing along its recent prospects and embraces the notion that maturation is a marathon, not a sprint. Drouin is still only 19 years old and relatively small (5-foot-11, 186 pounds) by NHL standards; if he’s not ready for the leap, it sure doesn’t sound like the Bolts will push it.

Just ask head coach Jon Cooper.

“Jonathan Drouin is not someone we’re investing in for one year,” Cooper explained. “We’re investing in him for a decade or more. Why would we want to rush the finished product?”