It wasn't too long ago that Steven Stamkos was establishing franchise records with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. Though he's now an NHL star in his fourth season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Stamkos never has forgotten the people or teams that helped get him there.
He recently told NHL.com that he still keeps tabs on the team and its players. Stamkos took particular interest in two 2012 NHL Draft-eligible Russian players starring for the Sting this season -- right wing Nail Yakupov and center Alex Galchenyuk.
Both players were regarded highly by NHL Central Scouting at its final meetings earlier this month. Yakupov was the unanimous choice as the No. 1-ranked North American skater. Galchenyuk, who didn't play a game until March due to October knee surgery, is No. 4 on the list.
Stamkos is well aware of what Yakupov and Galchenyuk are going through -- after all, he went through the same thing as the No. 1-ranked North American skater for the 2008 draft.
"It's tough, and you just try not to get caught up in all of it," Stamkos told NHL.com. "I think you let your play do the talking. I remember how tough it was for me … there's a lot more media attention than you're used to in your draft year and you're aware of when the rankings come out.
"As much as you say you try not to worry about that, it is in the back of your mind, and when you're playing against a guy that night who's also highly rated, you know there are a lot of scouts, there so you want to have a good game. If anything, you use it as motivation to play even better. I didn't see it as added pressure; I just let my play do the talking and focused on my game."
Stamkos met Yakupov and Galchenyuk last August at the BioSteel camp, which is run by trainers Matt Nichol and Gary Roberts and held in the Toronto area. Stamkos recalls speaking to each of the players and bonding over a few similar items -- their time in Sarnia and the fact one of them could follow Stamkos as the first pick in an NHL draft.
2012 NHL DRAFT
Yakupov tops CSS' final rankingsMike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
Sarnia star forward Nail Yakupov earned the top spot in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft. READ MORE ›
"I know Alex had been hurt most of the year, and I didn't know too much about Yakupov," Stamkos said. "I still haven't seen him play in a game, but I skated with both of them at that camp over the summer and they were pretty amazing. They had that Sedin-like vision on the ice; they were finding each other the whole time."
Scoring goals is something both players enjoy -- Yakupov led all first-year players in the OHL in 2010-11 with 49 goals in 65 games; his 101 points led all OHL rookies and shattered Stamkos' team rookie record of 92 points, set in 2006-07.
Does Stamkos see any similarities between himself in his draft year and either Yakupov or Galchenyuk?
"The one thing all three have in common is their commitment and drive to always improving their game," Sarnia assistant general manager Mark Glavin told NHL.com. "All three were obviously among the top players at the time they were here, but they were also among the hardest workers in practice and in the gym."
Glavin just completed his 12th season with the Sting and first as assistant GM. He worked exclusively as the director of public relations when Stamkos was taken by the Lightning with the first pick of the 2008 draft.
"Yakupov and Stamkos both have that explosive one-timer and quick release that was evident throughout their time with the Sting," he said. "You could also compare their flare for the dramatic and their sense of the moment. They both scored a lot of goals to win games very late with the game on the line."
"Galchenyuk and Stamkos both carried themselves a certain way that seemed to set them apart," Glavin added. "They were both first overall picks in [the OHL], and both were very polished and very poised at a young age. Stamkos seemed to get what it was to be a pro before he was ever drafted, and Alex has a lot of those traits as well."
Stamkos said he feels Yakupov and Galchenyuk are sure to have bright futures in the NHL.
"Seeing the skill set they both have is unbelievable, and I think they're both going to be great NHL players," he said.
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