NEWARK, N.J. --
The talk of Steven Stamkos
earning a roster spot on the Canadian Olympic Team at the 2010 Winter Games has been gaining more and more momentum.
Believe the hype.
Despite not being invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August -- teammates Vincent Lecavalier
and Martin St. Louis
got the nod -- Stamkos leads his team in goals (17), points (29), power-play goals (7) and shorthanded goals (1) through 26 games.
"I was definitely disappointed (when not invited to orientation camp)," Stamkos told NHL.com . "Especially the way things went in the second half of the (2008-09) season and then at the World Championships; I felt I did good over there.
"But it's tough to argue with the guys on that list. Canada has a pretty deep talent pool and I think you kind of understand that maybe age and experience becomes a factor, but it was tough. But I got over it and tried to focus on this upcoming season and maybe use that as a little bit of … coming into this year I didn't expect to have this kind of start. Now you're hearing rumors about the Olympics and it's definitely on my radar."
To think, through 27 games of his rookie season Stamkos had 3 goals, 11 points and a minus-11 rating. The 2008 first-overall selection was actually held without a goal in 15 of his first 16 games, but began turning it around right about the time Rick Tocchet
replaced Barry Melrose
behind the bench in November 2008.
"Even as an assistant coach, (Tocchet) was always in my corner, trying to give me a chance and an opportunity," Stamkos said. "He showed he cared and wanted to make me a better player. I knew I had the ability if given the opportunity and it was just a matter of getting that confidence back. I was playing a lot of minutes and in different situations and playing with good players -- that gave my confidence a boost."
If you'll recall, Melrose had some pretty harsh criticism of Stamkos less than a month after he was let go.
"Steven is not ready for the NHL," Melrose told Toronto's Fan 590 radio station last December. "Steven is going to be a good player. Right now he's just not strong enough physically to play against defensemen who are 6-3 or 6-4 that can skate as good as him."
Looking back at it now, the comments just added "fuel to the fire" and provided just the motivation he would need.
"I didn't think I was given an opportunity when he was head coach," Stamkos said of Melrose. "It's tough when you're playing 5-6-7 minutes a night to produce when people are expecting a lot from you. It was different, you're coming from junior where you're playing 25-30 minutes and now you're playing 5-6 minutes. It wasn't too tough to hear (Melrose' comments). Maybe a little expected, but I just tried to go out there and prove to myself, my teammates and my coaching staff what I can do."
"Stammer" finished with 21 goals and 42 points in 63 games under Tocchet in 2008-09. At the 2009 World Championships, he worked a line with Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis
and produced 7 goals, 11 points and a plus-9 rating, but Team Canada lost to the Russians, 2-1, in the final.
Tocchet knows Stamkos is definitely on Team Canada's radar again.
"Coming into this year I didn't expect to have this kind of start. Now you're hearing rumors about the Olympics and it's definitely on my radar."
-- Steven Stamkos
"He's definitely given himself a shot at it," Tocchet said. "He's really done a nice job this year. (Team Canada executive director) Steve Yzerman
has been at a lot of our games watching him, so he's definitely in the mix for one of the younger guys to make the team. Just to be considered is an honor, I think -- he's only 19 and that's a pretty high honor but he's making their job difficult."
Making Yzerman's decision difficult is precisely what Stamkos intends to do.
"I have to keep playing for as long as I can to make that decision as hard as possible for the guys picking that team," he said. "It's a goal of mine right now. My play has slipped a little of late, so I need to get back on track and I have less than a month to prove I should be on that team. My start was good, but I need to find that consistency level and keep being an impact player every night."
On top of all that, the second-year center is among good company. Since Feb. 17, 2009, he is in a dead heat with Washington's Alex Ovechkin
for the most goals in the League with 33. Columbus' Rick Nash
ranks second with 32.