If scoring 60 goals in the National Hockey League is considered to be a rarefied accomplishment in and of itself, then just what exactly is doing it in combination with rounding out a skills set in other facets of the game?
“That’s impressive,” Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said.
And it’s just what Steven Stamkos did this past season, highlighting his growth as an all-around, more complete two-way player.
While his remarkable career season in the goal scoring department certainly stole headlines, it was his ability to improve in other aspects of the game that served as a good barometer for just how much the Bolts forward had evolved since entering the league as an 18-year-old rookie in 2008.
That transformation perhaps began this past summer after Stamkos signed a five-year contract extension, from which he became determined to further develop his game.
Included in that process was working to become more efficient in winning faceoffs, holding himself accountable in the defensive zone and welcoming opportunities to kill off opposing power-play chances. On more than one occasion, he also displayed a relentless effort when it came to backchecking, and according to Boucher, quickly adapted to learning how to manage the puck better.
“To be that two-way player that I want to be, you have to have confidence in those situations as well,” Stamkos told The Tampa Tribune earlier this season. “To be out there, knowing that the coaching staff and your teammates have the confidence in you to get the job done at both ends of the rink is something that does grow confidence in your entire game.”
Stamkos’ remarkable season indicates he is becoming an all-around complete player.
It’s not as if the added responsibilities hindered his scoring ability either.
His 60 goals this past season not only led the league, but increased his total since the 2009-10 season to 156, or 36 more than any other NHL player in that span.
But it wasn’t so much that Stamkos was scoring, but how he was scoring.
In contrast to his 51-goal season in 2009-10 when he became renowned for his patented one-timers from the circles, Stamkos expanded his repertoire this past season by lighting the lamp a number of different ways, including on the rush, on tip-ins, wraparounds, rebounds in front of the net, dekes through traffic, high screens, and naturally, even his one-timer. He also scored more goals at even strength this season, recording a league-best 48, while getting just 12 on the power play.
“It's just the evolution of finding different ways to score,” Stamkos told The Tampa Bay Times. “It might not be fun at the time, battling in front of the net. But there's nothing more fun than scoring goals.”
The circumstances could not have been more different from a year ago, when Stamkos spent too much time on the perimeter, looking to score from outside the scoring areas and causing him to finish the final 28 games of the 2010-11 regular season with just five goals.
While the drop-off wasn’t wildly popular with Stamkos himself, Boucher believed it did add to the benefit of Stamkos’ maturation.
“People think you need success to learn,” Boucher told The Tampa Bay Times. “I think the opposite. You need to go down to figure out why you had success.”
As for Stamkos, Boucher added, “he figured it out.”