Starting today, and continuing for the next seven days, a number of young men will hit the St. Pete Times Forum ice and hope to make an impression during the Lightning’s prospect camp.All of these players are either teenagers or in their early 20s.
For some of us, myself included, our teenage years are a mere speck in our rearview mirrors.I have a hard time remembering what I thought and how I felt when I was in high school.I can state unequivocally, though, that I was woefully ill-prepared to face the pressures of the real world.That’s why it’s so impressive to watch these players compete and perform at such a high level, with so much at stake.
I suppose, on the one hand, that their capacity to reach such heights is understandable.Most, if not all of them, have been the cream of the crop throughout their careers.They are accustomed to being “the guy” on their teams and accepting the responsibility that comes with being a top player.But still, this camp is a new, higher level, one that many haven’t yet seen.It’s another new challenge for them.
Even more amazing then, are those rare teenaged players who adapt to the NHL game and produce immediately.Steven Stamkos’ rookie season has been well-documented; it took him a few months to get fully acclimated to the NHL before he took off.But he still scored 23 goals last year and he won’t turn 20 until next February.Then there is a player like Sidney Crosby, who, at age 18, joined the Pittsburgh Penguins and looked as though he had been an NHLer for a decade.All while seamlessly dealing with the media, fans and his much older teammates.
And how about Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux?Now that their playing careers are over, we can admire their prolific scoring numbers.But both those men joined the NHL as 18-year olds and were immediate stars.Gretzky (who actually turned pro as a 17-year old with the Oilers in 1978, Edmonton’s last year in the WHA) netted 51 goals and posted 137 points in 1979-80.He tied for the league scoring title.Mario tallied 43 goals and hit 100 points in his rookie season of 1984-85.In other words, Gretzky and Lemieux were not players who evolved into two of the greatest ever as they progressed through their careers; they were two of the greatest from their very first game.
So head out to the St. Pete Times Forum to catch some of the Lightning’s prospects, including first round picks Victor Hedman and Carter Ashton.The practices are open to the public and on Saturday night at 7:00 PM, there will be a scrimmage.Following the scrimmage, fans will have a chance to meet these young men during an autograph session.You’ll quickly discover how they are mature beyond their years.