As the first-overall pick of the 2008 NHL Draft, Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos had lofty expectations from Lightning fans. And so far, he has lived up to them, and still has nowhere to go but up.
In his rookie season, he scored 23 goals and 23 assists in 79 games and was a contender for the Calder Trophy, which went to Columbus goalie Steve Mason. This season, he has surpassed those numbers in fewer games. His statistical line has improved in all areas and the regular season isn’t even over. In 55 games, he has 29 goals, 28 assists, and 26 power play points. He has also improved by spending less time in the penalty box, and a better plus-minus rating despite it currently being -2. His 12 power play goals are tops in the league.
This season when the team visited the Red Wings, the 19-year-old Stamkos had to have a dinner escort as the team stayed at the MGM Casino and Hotel, where patrons must be 21 to enter the gaming floor. Seems that is the only thing holding back a young player who will turn 20 Super Bowl Sunday.
He joins Sydney Crosby and Ilya Kovalchuk as the only active players to score 100 points before their 20th birthday.
Stamkos is achieving his numbers because he is playing within himself. Usually, young star players are put on the top line and the team will have to rely on them for offense. But because he is playing on the second-line with Steve Downie and Ryan Malone, he can command as much attention and focus from opponents as the top line of Alex Tanguay, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier.
Stamkos had a humbling experience when he was benched midway through last season. “There are times where you feel like your shot doesn’t feel good, your hands don’t feel good, your skating ability … when things aren’t going well, you’re not playing a lot and you are not producing, it’s tough,” Stamkos said in a Tampa Tribune interview. “But you have to try to hide that when you come to the rink and not wear that on your heart, and looking back now it was hard, I was lacking confidence a bit.”
Stamkos lacking confidence or trying to find his shot isn’t much of a problem anymore. He and the Lightning are currently tied for 8th in the Eastern Conference with 27 games left. After the Olympic Break, the Lightning, as well as the Flyers, Canadiens, Panthers, Rangers, Islanders, Thrashers, and Bruins will be in a sprint for points as they all sit within five points of each other. Of the group of eight teams, only three will make the playoffs. This could mean Stamkos has the opportunity to catch fire late in the season to help his team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07.