|Steven Stamkos makes his NHL debut with Tampa Saturday, September 20, against the Pittsburgh Penguins. |
, the first pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, will make his debut in a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform Saturday when the Lightning skate into Pittsburgh for their first exhibition game at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Stamkos has been as heralded off the ice as he has been on it. The forward finished second in the Ontario Hockey League with 58 goals and fifth with 105 points.
"All I expect of (Stamkos) is to come in and work as hard as he can every night," Lightning coach Barry Melrose said. "That's what he's been doing his whole life since he was 10-years-old, so we're not expecting him to carry this team or be the best player, but we expect him to be the hardest working 18-year-old on the Tampa Bay Lightning. If he does that, we'll get some results."
He also was the subject of an elaborate marketing campaign by the Lightning that included a Web site entitled SeenStamkos.com.
Stamkos is expected to center the Lightning's second line when the regular season starts.
Prior to being selected with the first pick at Scotiabank Place on June 20, Stamkos finished fifth overall in the OHL with 105 points for the Sarnia Sting. Despite a 6-foot, 176-pound frame, his rare combination of skill and speed make him a good candidate for second-line duty with the big club right out of training camp.
Stamkos realizes the expectations that accompany the No. 1 pick in the draft.
"It's one thing to go to training camp and get a sniff of the NHL, but it's another to stay a full season. If I'm able to do that, I'm definitely going to have greater expectations for myself to produce." - Steven Stamkos
"I think sticking in the NHL is the biggest goal of mine right now," he said. "It's one thing to go to training camp and get a sniff of the NHL, but it's another to stay a full season. If I'm able to do that, I'm definitely going to have greater expectations for myself to produce. I'm known as an offensive player and I definitely want to put up some reasonable numbers. You look at Patrick Kane (Chicago), Sam Gagner (Edmonton) and Jonathan Toews (Chicago) and how they were able to step in and put up some pretty good numbers in their first seasons. Hopefully, I can follow in their footsteps."
Stamkos, who had six points in seven games during Canada's gold medal-winning effort at the 2008 World Junior Championships, could be as successful as Kane was in his rookie season. Kane scored 21 goals and 72 points on the way to earning the Calder Trophy.
"Coach (Melrose) expects me to play in the NHL this year and I know there's a lot of hard work to be done until then, but I also expect to be there," Stamkos said. "I feel, based on my playing experience in juniors and the way I developed over the last few seasons, he thinks I'm ready and I think I'm ready. The management brought in a lot of great players and a lot of guys I feel I can really look up to and that will only help ease my transition.
"I know the media will compare me to the (Sidney) Crosbys, (Alex) Ovechkins and (Patrick) Kanes, who came into the League and tore it up at a young age," he continued. "For me, I'm just going to go in and hope for the best. In saying that, I'm going to work as hard as I can with the goal of producing and becoming a good player right away."