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by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE -- When Lee Stempniak walked into the Coyotes dressing room for the first time last week after being acquired in a trade with Toronto, he knew just one of his new teammates.

A week and three goals later, Stempniak is fitting in nicely with his peers and is impressing the coaching staff and management.

"You've got to love a guy who cares that much, that he comes in and plays so hard to endear himself to his (new) teammates," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "He's a gritty player."

Lee Stempniak
The Coyotes acquired Stempniak on March 3 just hours before the NHL trade deadline for defenseman Matt Jones, a fourth-round choice and a seventh-round choice in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. The thinking was that Stempniak would be a versatile role player among the top nine forwards. In his first three games, however, Stempniak has provided more than that by notching three goals and one assist for his new team.

Scoring goals is nothing new for Stempniak, who netted 27 in his first full NHL season with St. Louis in 2006-07. He lost that scoring touch while playing for Toronto the past one-plus seasons, but is focused on regaining it with the Coyotes.

“That’s something I want to get back,” Stempniak said. “There’s no reason not to. It’s not like I got lucky or it was a fluke (in 2006-07)… It’s something I work on. I want to be a goal scorer and be a guy that the coaches can count on if we need a goal late in the game. That’s what I strive for.”

Stempniak grew up in West Seneca, N.Y. – a suburb of Buffalo – and attended Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school nestled in rural New Hampshire. It was there that he majored in economics but realized that pro hockey could be his occupation right out of college. When NHL scouts came to watch Dartmouth forward Hugh Jessiman play, Stempniak realized he, too, had the tools to be an NHL player.

“That was sort of an eye-opener for me,” Stempniak said. “I thought if he could do it, why can’t I?”

Both players were drafted in 2003; Jessiman, by the New York Rangers in the first round, and Stempniak, by the St. Louis Blues, in the fifth round.

Stempniak then played 233 games for the Blues over four seasons and scored 57 goals. He was traded to Toronto in 2008 but struggled to score regularly there. In 123 games with the Maple Leafs, Stempniak netted 25 goals.

“He was a terrific offensive player in St. Louis,” Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said. “… We think we have a great slot for him to come in here and really regain that scoring touch which he’s kind of lost a little bit over the last year and a half (in Toronto)… We know his personality and we think it fits with this group.”

Stempniak said he enjoyed his time with the Maple Leafs and didn’t mind playing for arguably the most popular and most scrutinized team in the NHL.

“It wasn’t too overwhelming for me,” Stempniak said. “I’m the type of guy who expects the most out of myself and I really put high expectations and pressure on myself. I really don’t feel the external pressure from the media or the fans.”

Still, Stempniak didn’t mind leaving the struggling Maple Leafs for a chance to join the seemingly playoff-bound Coyotes.

Captain Shane Doan is pleased the Coyotes added Stempniak to the roster and thinks he’s a good fit for Tippett’s system.

“I think he’s impressed everybody,” Doan said. “I think a lot of the expectations were for him to come in and do this. We saw what he could do in St. Louis when we played against him a lot. He was one of those players who you knew was on the verge of becoming one of the premiere forwards. Since he’s been here he’s been phenomenal. His energy and his work ethic fits right into Tip’s style and it’s great for us and he’s made a huge difference.”

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