|Steven Stamkos of the OHL's Sarnia Sting, is favored to the be the first overall choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
"I want to get drafted as high as possible, but just getting drafted is a tremendous honor," Stamkos said. "Getting drafted is more like a bragging right. Once you get to camp, then everyone's on an even playing field and you're playing for a job. You can be a fourth-rounder, but if you outplay the first-rounder, they're going to take you."
Stamkos (6-foot, 183 pounds) isn't just good, he's ridiculously good. He was recognized as the finest stickhandler and the player with the best shot in the OHL's annual Coaches Poll. In fact, the 18-year-old native of Scarborough, Ontario, has already perfected some of hockey's most electrifying maneuvers.
His spectacular behind-the-legs breakaway goal during the OHL Skills Competition on Feb. 5 has been viewed by more than 100,000 people on YouTube. There's also the awe-inspiring lacrosse move where the puck attaches to his stick like Velcro, enabling him to wield the disk in any direction. Tack on the trusty spin-o-rama and "flick and bat” for good measure and Stamkos is a bona fide fan favorite in the making. That said, he prefers discussing team goals in favor of personal accomplishments, another critical trait that has pro scouts drooling.
"You won't ever hear Steve talk about Steve; it's always about the Sarnia Sting and that's one of the reasons why he's going to be such a great NHL player," Sting assistant coach Greg Walters said. "He goes about his own business, he's a leader in the dressing room already, and he's a team-first guy."
He's also an astute listener.
”We go through video with him, just like everyone else, and he makes mistakes," Walters said. "But with Steve he only makes them once, and once we say something to him he fixes it and doesn't do it again. That's part of the reason he is the player he is."
Sting coach Dave MacQueen echoes those sentiments.
"If you met him off the ice, you wouldn't know he has all this pressure on him or that he was rated the top two or three pick in the NHL draft," MacQueen said. "He's a well-grounded, well-rounded individual. I don't think you need to shield him too much. His parents have done a wonderful job with him and obviously he's been a star wherever he's played."
Stamkos, selected first overall in the 2006 OHL Priority Draft after scoring 105 goals for the Markham Waxers Minor Midget team, led the Sting and ranked second in the OHL with 58 goals in 61 regular-season games this season. He finished a plus-18 with 105 points and was one of two players born in 1990 to be named to Team Canada for the 2008 World Junior Championships. The other player, incidentally, was Oshawa Generals forward John Tavares, who is projected to be the first overall pick in June 2009.
Stamkos' Sting currently trail the Kitchener Rangers, 2-0, in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series. Stamkos, who scored twice in a 3-2 triple-overtime loss on Saturday, hopes his club can rebound in tomorrow night's Game 3 in Kitchener before returning home Wednesday for Game 4. Stamkos scored nine goals in a five-game elimination of the Windsor Spitfires in the tournament's opening round and has 11 goals in seven playoff games.
In 2006-07, he won the Bobby Smith Trophy as the OHL Scholastic Player of the Year after leading the Sting with 42 goals and 50 assists in 63 games. He netted 22 goals on the power play and ended the season a plus-13. He was runner-up for the OHL Rookie of the Year in 2007, an honor that went to last year's first overall draft choice, Patrick Kane.
So, does Stamkos have a preference on where he plays?
There are three elite defensemen in this year's draft who could challenge Stamkos for the top overall selection, including Drew Doughty of the Guelph Storm, Zach Bogosian of the Peterborough Petes and hulking Tyler Myers of the Kelowna Rockets.
Doughty (5-foot-11, 213 pounds) of London, Ontario, finished ninth in scoring among OHL defensemen with 50 points and his nine power-play goals ranked third on the team this season. Bogosian (6-1, 199) of Massena, N.Y., ranked second overall among OHL defenders with 50 assists and was the only defenseman this season to lead his team in points (61). Myers (6-7, 200) of Houston is the tallest North American skater ranked by Central Scouting. A member of Canada's National Under-18 Team that will compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation's World U18 Championships in Kazan, Russia, from April 13-23, Myers had career highs in points (19) and goals (six) in the Western Hockey League.
Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo of the OHL's Niagara IceDogs and Luke Schenn of Kelowna could also go high on the board. Pietrangelo finished seventh in the League scoring race among defenders with 53 points, and Schenn had 28 points and 100 penalty minutes.
One of two players from the WHL could become the second forward chosen after Stamkos in the first round, including Zach Boychuk (5-9, 176) of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and power-forward Kyle Beach of the Everett Silvertips. Boychuck had 72 points and 33 goals in 61 games and Beach connected for 60 points and 27 goals with a whopping 222 penalty minutes in 60 matches.
The top-rated European skater on the board is winger Nikita Filatov (5-11, 165), who plays for CSKA Moscow of the Russian Super League. Filatov, who speaks fluent English, won a gold medal in the 2007 IIHF World U18 Championships and a bronze in this year's IIHF World Juniors as a member of the Russian squad. Both medals were earned in wins over Team USA.
The first round of the NHL Entry Draft is slated for June 20 at 7 p.m. (EST) and subsequent rounds (two through seven) will begin June 21 at 10 a.m.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.