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Stamkos scoreless, but showing flashes

Sunday, 10.05.2008 / 4:45 PM / NHL Premiere

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

PRAGUE, Czech Republic – For his first weekend in the National Hockey League, Steven Stamkos barely gave himself a passing grade.

“It’s a little bit below average,” Stamkos told NHL.com. “Obviously you want to win the games you play in and you want to help produce offensively. I wasn’t able to do that and the team wasn’t able to win.”

No, the Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t able to win against the New York Rangers. They lost both games of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Prague by a 2-1 margin.

However, Stamkos is definitely being too hard on himself. The League’s No. 1 draft pick this past June looked and acted the part of a future NHL star. It doesn’t appear that he’s heading back to the Sarnia Sting of the OHL anytime soon.

He didn’t score a goal and he averaged just over 11 and a half minutes of ice time, but he had three excellent scoring chances and coach Barry Melrose said Stamkos played on the power play Sunday because of the effort he gave in limited ice time Saturday.

Stamkos said he had practiced with the power play early in the preseason, but not during Tampa Bay’s time in Europe.

“He’ll shoot the puck,” Melrose said. “For some reason I think our guys think you’ll get a two-minute minor if you shoot the puck, so I’m just trying to get some guys that will throw the puck at the net.”

Stamkos said he treated his weekend like it was just normal, even if it really was his first hockey dream coming true. He didn’t feel like he was floating on the ice, but instead had his skates firmly planted and focus not befitting an 18-year-old rookie.

“I felt more nervous before the first exhibition game against the Penguins,” Stamkos said. “That’s when I felt that, especially against (Sidney) Crosby in your first NHL game. I had played all six exhibition games, so I just treated (these games) like any of those six. I didn’t do anything too different to prepare.”

Most of the Rangers’ players had never seen Stamkos play before Saturday. By late Sunday, they were impressed with the League’s newest teeny bopper.

“I think you’ll see him climb all year,” veteran defenseman Wade Redden said. “We have seen a lot of young guys come into the League and be real good. I haven’t seen a lot of him, but I think they’re men already at that age. He skates so well that once he gets some confidence from playing he’ll pick it up.”

Redden was actually surprised by the power of Stamkos’ shot, which he learned all about roughly 14 minutes into the second period Sunday when Stamkos ripped a shot off the crossbar.

“Was that him that hit the crossbar?” Redden asked. “That was a great shot. It actually zinged right by my ear.”

Stamkos thought it was a goal, which is why he raised his arms. However, the official standing right near him quickly waved his arms to signal that it wasn’t a goal.

“The guys on the ice thought it went in, but I think it hit where the crossbar and the post meet,” Stamkos said. “It’s a little unlucky, but it’s a good sign that hopefully things are coming.”
It sure looks like they are.

Stamkos was also a tad unlucky Saturday when Henrik Lundqvist appeared to steal what would have been the go-ahead goal midway through the third period with a brilliant glove save on Stamkos’ first NHL breakaway.

Stamkos, though, said he didn’t get good wood on the shot.

“If you slow it down and see the replay, the puck actually popped up and I really just tried to take a nine iron out and chip it up,” Stamkos said. “I got hooked a bit and the puck popped up. I knew right when I shot it, it had no chance of going in. It was just like a muffin shot, I didn’t get any wood on it.

He still made a good save because that’s tough when you think a guy is going to shoot it hard and it just pops up.”

No matter how he grades himself or that shot, Stamkos passed his first test.

Of the few bright spots the Lightning can take out of their time in Prague, seeing Stamkos prove to everybody he belongs in this League may be tops on the list.

“I was disappointed in the losses, but the times I was out there I felt very calm and confident and had a couple of chances,” Stamkos said. “Hopefully I can keep that up and just build on it. Things are coming along, but we need to get a win.”

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com

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