Lightning's Stamkos is living up to all the hype
Lightning forward Steven Stamkos shared the Maurice Richard Trophy last season with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby as the NHL's leading goal-scorer. They each scored 51 goals.
Share with others:
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's not as if Steven Stamkos slipped into the NHL unnoticed.
That'd be kind of tough to do when you're the first player selected in the 2008 entry draft, and your arrival in this city fueled an entire marketing campaign.
The simple truth is, much was expected of Stamkos from his earliest shifts in this league, and much has been delivered.
More, probably, than anyone reasonably could have anticipated.
Stamkos did, after all, tie Sidney Crosby of the Penguins for the NHL lead in goal-scoring in 2009-10, finishing with 51 just a few months after celebrating his 20th birthday.
And now, eight games into his third professional season, Stamkos is reaffirming his place as one of the sport's elite offensive performers. Going into Monday night's games, he led the NHL with 15 points -- four more than anyone else -- and was tied with Chicago's Patrick Sharp for first place in the goal-scoring race with eight.
His goal pace projects to 82 over a full season, and if Stamkos could maintain his current level of point production, he'd finish with 154. That would be the most since Mario Lemieux put up 161 in 1995-96.
Even Stamkos acknowledged that his accomplishments during his first two-plus seasons in the league have surpassed what he thought he could achieve.
"I'd be lying if I said I was expecting that of myself," he said, "but it's something I definitely worked hard toward."
Those efforts have allowed him to become an excellent skater and to develop a release that has few equals. Factor in Stamkos' instincts for detecting soft spots in opposing defenses, and you have a guy capable of regularly altering the course of games.
"Even when you don't think you're giving him that much space, he gets the shot off so quickly," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
"You don't want to completely cheat on him, but you always have to be aware of where he is. You give him a little amount of space and he's got such a good release that he gets his shot off."
Although Stamkos was the Lightning's top scorer against the Penguins last season, they did a fairly good job of damage control against him, as Stamkos had two goals and three assists in four games.
The challenge of containing him gets greater each year, however, in part because of the energy Stamkos puts into his offseason training regimen. (Sound familiar, Crosby fans?)
He has turned over his past two summers to former Penguins winger Gary Roberts, whose passion for nutrition and conditioning is all but unmatched in the game.
"His first year in the league, you could tell [Stamkos] was going to be really good, but he was weak on the puck," Orpik said. "That's something he's obviously gotten a lot better at, thanks to our old friend Gary Roberts."
Stamkos is 6 feet 1, 188 pounds, and while there's probably a trace of fat on him somewhere, it might take a court order to find it.
Stamkos credits Roberts with helping him to reach his physical potential -- "Obviously, working out with Gary the last two summers has been huge," he said -- but pointed out that some of his development is a simple matter of growing up. At his age, that's an ongoing process.
"At the end of the day, you're just maturing," Stamkos said. "You're growing into your body. You're getting stronger."
The value of that is compounded by his other strengths, as well as a willingness to venture into high-traffic areas in the attacking zone.
"His first couple of goals early in the season, he was in front of the net, screening the goalie and getting some tips," Lightning left winger Ryan Malone said. "You're not going to be able to score 50 just shooting from the outside. He knows he has to go into those dirty areas and he's willing to do that."
And so, game after game, Stamkos proves that the hype that swirled around his entry into the NHL actually was understated, that those who predicted greatness for him actually might have set the bar a bit low.
Not that he takes his success for granted.
"Everything is great right now, but it's a long year," Stamkos said. "So many things can happen."
And so many things could happen, all of them good for his team, because of him.
First Published October 26, 2010 12:00 am