Last season, a 60-goal campaign left Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos at the top of the NHL.
On Tuesday, sitting in his locker stall at the team’s training facility in Brandon, Stamkos admitted he was unsure if he would hit the mark again this season, but there still remains little doubt that the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner will again prove to be a cut above the rest.
Following a five-month offseason hiatus and a rigorous summer workout program led by former NHLer and fitness guru Gary Roberts, both of which proved responsible for strengthening Stamkos’ injured shoulder sustained last spring towards the conclusion of the regular season, the Lightning forward could be seen zigging and zagging at the Ice Sports Forum Tuesday as he participated in unofficial workouts with teammates.
It was, perhaps, just a preview of what is in store for the 2012-13 season, when Stamkos expects to take his game to an even higher level than he did this past season, when he led the league with 60 goals and came in second in the NHL with 97 points.
“Last season was a big step in my career,” Stamkos said. “But I’m always looking to raise my game and coming into this year, consistency is a big part of that. I think no matter how good of a year a guy has, they always crave more and want to be better.”
So, just how high is the ceiling for a kid who leads the NHL with 156 goals since the 2009-10 season?
“The sky is the limit for him,” teammate Martin St. Louis said. “Every player is always judged on his best years, so for him, it’s about maintaining consistency. Sixty goals is pretty good. But can he score more? Absolutely.”
Stamkos completed the 2011-12 season with 97 points (60G, 37A).
It is a pretty lofty task that comes with equally as high expectations.
Few would argue that Stamkos isn’t capable of putting up 45-60 goals per season, but there are other aspects to his game, he said, that he would like to excel in.
Such as being more of a leader, a role he stepped into at the start of last season, and one he would like “to continue on the path towards.”
Stamkos also said he desires to become a better two-way player, seeks to improve defensively, and perhaps most of all, strives to get the best out of his teammates in order to make a deep playoff run and to earn a shot of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
“I know my role on this team is to produce offensively, but there are other ways I want to contribute,” he added. “Scoring 60 goals is a great accomplishment and a memory I will always cherish, but at the start of the season that’s not what I set out to do. My goal was to help this team get back to the playoffs and we didn’t, so from now up until the start of the season that’s the focus. I felt we made some great moves during the summer, so I’m really excited.”
Following last season’s individual success, and ranking in the top five in league scoring in each of the past three seasons, Stamkos has left few questions regarding his on-ice abilities unanswered.
In fact, even St. Louis chimed in to erase any potential doubt.
When asked if his linemate and understudy was an elite player in today’s NHL, St. Louis quickly replied with little hesitation.
“Of course he is.”