TAMPA - Elite-level prospects often draw comparisons to others who played before. Whether it's trying to label the next "Great One'' or tab the next "Super Mario," the comparisons will always be made. They are not taken lightly. When Halifax winger Jonathan Drouin comes up, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound left wing is often compared to a Hall of Fame player who once donned Lightning colors. "We think of Drouin as a modern-day Denis Savard with his phenomenal stick-handling maneuvers and unreal creativity and east-west lateral moves," Kyle Woodlief, founder of scouting service Red Line Report, said in his rankings for USA Today.
A top prospect in Sunday's NHL entry draft, Drouin also could find himself in a Lightning jersey, one of several players Tampa Bay could target with the No. 3 overall pick. Drouin, 17, has come a long way in a short period of time, making the jump from AAA midget hockey in the fall of 2011 to becoming the MVP of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2012-13. He also was the Canadian Hockey League player of the year while winning a Memorial Cup championship. At the World Junior Championships in January, Drouin had two goals and two assists for Canada while playing with 2011 top overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Though Drouin's seemingly quick rise might have taken some by surprise, he's been on the Lightning radar for longer than most. "We've had Drouin in our Top 10 list since (last summer) when a lot of other people had him as a borderline first-round pick or a second-round pick,'' Lightning director of scouting Al Murray said. "We watched him play half a season in Halifax (as a 16-year-old), watched him at tryouts for the Under-18 tournament and he was the best player there.'' Drouin had 41 goals and 64 assists in 49 games with Halifax last season, but his ability to make plays and set up teammates is what has scouts raving. "He's a dynamic offensive player, a combination goal scorer and play maker,'' Murray said. "Terrific skater, not blazing speed, but above average speed with tremendous agility and quickness, which allows him to take the puck down either wall and cut diagonally across the top. He's got a lot of confidence in his own ability, but he might be as good of a playmaker as there is in the draft.'' Drouin is an intriguing talent whose name continues to creep into the conversation as a potential the first overall pick by Colorado. Ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the third North American skater behind Seth Jones and teammate Nathan MacKinnon, some independent scouting services have Drouin ranked as the top overall prospect. "Drouin has unique puck skills, with the ability to show consistent offensive creativity," said Cory Pronman at Hockey Prospectus. "His ability to make plays in tight spaces is second to none. "What separates Drouin, though, are his hands, and his tremendous ability to think the game. He has elite vision and offensive hockey sense, which allow him to dictate the offense.'' email@example.com (813) 259-7835 Twitter: @erlendssontbo