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Jonathan Drouin's road to the NHL took a little longer than he thought and then, all of a sudden, practically overnight, it was upon him – too soon to even notify his parents, who wanted to get in and watch his debut. The Tampa Bay Lightning forward, the third overall pick in the 2013 NHL entry draft, spent last year playing for the Halifax Mooseheads, while his equally celebrated junior teammate, Nathan MacKinnon, was picking off rookie-of-the-year honours in the NHL.

The Tampa Bay Lightning operates that way. General manager Steve Yzerman cut his teeth in the Detroit Red Wings' organization, where players aren't rushed to the NHL. Instead, they wait until they are ready – and at 18, wildly skilled but physically not as mature as MacKinnon, Drouin went back and lit it up to the tune of 108 points in 46 games. It's a logical progression, but knowing it's the sensible long-term approach didn't make it any easier. Patience is not a quality normally associated with teenage wunderkinds and Drouin will acknowledge that at times, it was difficult.

"From my draft class, a lot of guys played in their first year, the top six or seven," Drouin said after his second NHL game, which also featured his first NHL point and his first NHL win – a 2-1 overtime decision for the Lightning over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. "We took a different route. I think it was the right choice at that moment. Obviously, it was disappointing to get cut last year and obviously, with the injury this year, patience starts getting a little low. You're excited to play and you can't."

Drouin was practically assured of an NHL job this season, until he broke his thumb in training camp, which landed him on the injured reserve list. After playing a couple of rehab games in Syracuse last weekend, he joined the team in Edmonton on Monday and was tentatively scheduled to watch from the press box, until teammate Alex Killorn caught a skate in a rut on Rexall Place ice – and there was Drouin's opportunity.

He made his debut against the Oilers on five hours' notice, played a little more than 16 minutes, and when Steven Stamkos's regular winger, Ryan Callahan, was injured in the same game, suddenly was getting minutes on the top line.

This was always the plan. Drouin was drafted by the Lightning to eventually replace Martin St. Louis, who hastened his exit out of Tampa last year by demanding a trade at the deadline. So as circuitous as the journey was, there was Drouin on the ice with Stamkos and Val Filppula, showing flashes of the player that he will eventually become.

In the offensive zone, it is as if he has the puck on a string and can back off defencemen with his moves. A couple of times early in the win over Calgary, Drouin's line had the Flames hemmed in their own zone for the duration of a shift, cycling with the puck. Then, with time running out in regulation and Tampa trailing by a goal, Drouin created a turnover in the Flames' zone and made the sort of small, subtle play that only the smartest offensive players can make, finding a diagonal cross-ice seam to an open Jason Garrison at the right point. With time to shoot, Garrison got it on goal and Filppula eventually tapped in the rebound. In overtime, Stamkos and Drouin got clear on a two-on-zero break, Stamkos dishing it to Drouin at the last minute, Drouin getting it on net, goaltender Karri Ramo making a lunging blocker save to record the highlight of the night.

"To see [Garrison], that's what guys like him do," assessed Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "I always say, 'They've got the third eye.' With that third eye, they can see things that others can't, and that's what he did."

All in all, a pretty satisfying 48 hours for Drouin, whose parents made it to Calgary to see his second NHL game.

"I'm still on Cloud 9," Drouin said, adding: "It's a tough league to play in but these players I played with, Stammer and Fil, they're unbelievable. They move the puck and make plays real good, so it's pretty easy – just find an area and they'll give you the puck."

Conditioning-wise, Drouin said he feels "really good. When I got injured, I could still skate. It's no fun in the beginning with no pucks, just skating around, but it's part of the business. You have to be in shape. I had to go to Syracuse for one weekend and I think it helped me get my timing and speed back."

Most of the Calder Trophy forecasts for this year landed on one of Drouin, the Los Angeles Kings' Tanner Pearson, the Washington Capitals' Evgeny Kuznetsov or Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau. MacKinnon didn't get off to the fastest start last year either, but started to roll after about 10 games. You can imagine the same thing happening with Drouin once he settles into a routine. The kid looks good already. In time, he may look great.

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