|Steve Stamkos, the first overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, hopes to make an immediate impact on the the Tampa Bay roster, and the team is committed to giving him every opportunity to do so.
WATCH: Stamkos talks about his play
Lightning Vice President of Hockey Operations Brian Lawton made that possible when he signed the first-overall pick of the 2008 Entry Draft to an entry-level contract. Stamkos, who is participating in Tampa’s prospect camp at the Bear Mountain Resort in Victoria, British Columbia this week, was the first Canadian to be selected No. 1 overall since Sidney Crosby in 2005.
“(Signing a contract) is a pretty tremendous honor and a special day for me and my family,’’ Stamkos admitted during a media conference call announcing the signing. “But, (signing a contract) doesn’t really guarantee anything except signing-bonus money, so there’s a lot of hard work that’s needed to be done in the first step of my NHL career.’’
Stamkos’ focus now shifts to earning a spot on the roster.
“I had a chance to talk to Mr. Lawton (on Tuesday) and he said I’ll have to earn a spot and ice time on the team and I couldn’t agree more,’’ Stamkos said. “I realize it’s going to be tough for me to come in as an 18-year-old against these men and shine right away, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get that roster spot for the whole season and continue to grow as a player. I’m going to go to training camp and prove to myself and my teammates that I can play at that elite level.’’
Lightning coach Barry Melrose, while impressed with Stamkos’ offensive credentials, is also excited by his desire to get physical. The 18-year-old accumulated a career-high 88 penalty minutes in 61 games with Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League last season, a considerable increase over the 56 minutes accrued in 2006-07.
“All I expect of (Stamkos) is to come in and work as hard as he can every night,’’ Melrose said. “That’s what he’s been doing his whole life since he was 10-years-old, so we’re not expecting him to carry this team or be the best player, but we expect him to be the hardest working 18-year-old on the Tampa Bay Lightning. If he does that, we’ll get some results.’’
Prior to being selected with the first pick at Scotiabank Place on June 20, Stamkos finished fifth overall in the OHL with 105 points for the Sarnia Sting. Despite a 6-foot, 176-pound frame, his rare combination of skill and speed make him a good candidate for second-line duty with the big club right out of training camp.
“I know the media will compare me to the (Sidney) Crosbys, (Alex) Ovechkins and (Patrick) Kanes, who came into the League and tore it up at a young age. For me, I’m just going to go in and hope for the best. In saying that, I’m going to work as hard as I can with the goal of producing and becoming a good player right away.’’ -- Steven Stamkos
Stamkos realizes the expectations that accompany the No. 1 pick in the draft.
“I think sticking in the NHL is the biggest goal of mine right now,’’ he said. “It’s one thing to go to training camp and get a sniff of the NHL, but it’s another to stay a full season. If I’m able to do that, I’m definitely going to have greater expectations for myself to produce. I’m known as an offensive player and I definitely want to put up some reasonable numbers. You look at Patrick Kane (Chicago), Sam Gagner (Edmonton) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago) and how they were able to step in and put up some pretty good numbers in their first seasons. Hopefully, I can follow in their footsteps.’’
Stamkos, who had six points in seven games during Canada’s gold medal-winning effort at the 2008 World Junior Championships, could be as successful as Kane was in his rookie season. Kane scored 21 goals and 72 points on the way to earning the Calder Trophy.
“Coach (Melrose) expects me to play in the NHL this year and I know there’s a lot of hard work to be done until then, but I also expect to be there,’’ Stamkos admitted. “I feel, based on my playing experience in juniors and the way I developed over the last few seasons, he thinks I’m ready and I think I’m ready. The management brought in a lot of great players and a lot of guys I feel I can really look up to and that will only help ease my transition.
“I know the media will compare me to the (Sidney) Crosbys, (Alex) Ovechkins and (Patrick) Kanes, who came into the League and tore it up at a young age,’’ he continued. “For me, I’m just going to go in and hope for the best. In saying that, I’m going to work as hard as I can with the goal of producing and becoming a good player right away.’’
Stamkos skipped participation in Canada’s World Junior Developmental Camp in Ottawa this week so that he would be present for Tampa’s prospect camp from July 28 through Aug. 1. Members of the Lightning coaching staff, including Melrose and assistant coaches Rick Tocchet, Wes Walz and Cap Raeder were on hand to observe those participants.
“It’s one thing to put the Tampa Bay jersey on at the draft, but it’s another when you get to put it over your hockey gear and go out there to practice with the coaching staff and all the other prospects,’’ Stamkos said. “I haven’t had a chance to speak directly to any of the veterans on the team yet, but I’m sure in the near future I will and they’ll have some good advice for me and I’ll be all ears trying to learn as much as I can.’’
“It’s obvious to all of our staff that Steven is a very special young man with great potential,” Lawton said. “His work ethic and eagerness to learn have been very impressive. We believe with our veteran leadership that Tampa Bay is the perfect scenario for Steven to grow and mature as a player and person on and off the ice.’’
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.