With 11 goals in his first 12 games this season, Steven Stamkos
looks like the player who the Tampa Bay Lightning
were hoping they would get when they made him the first pick of the 2008 Entry Draft.
That's a far cry from the first 12 games of last season for Stamkos, when he had 2 goals, 4 points and a minus-3 rating. Things never really got better, either, as he had just 4 goals, 14 points and a minus-11 rating in his first 40 games.
Coach Rick Tocchet
, having seen enough, made Stamkos a healthy scratch Jan. 9 for a game against the Anaheim Ducks
. He was scratched two other times, but it was the first one that got Stamkos' attention.
"Being a healthy scratch last year got me a little mad," Stamkos told NHL.com. "I don't think that's ever happened. It was something new to me, something you don't want to feel again as a player. You want to go out there and help your team. That hit home and made me want to work even harder, play so well that they can't take you out of the lineup. That was my mentality last year. I think I just grew from that point."
Stamkos returned to the lineup the following game and started to find his stride. He finished the season with 19 goals and 32 points in his last 39 games, and his strong play continued into the World Championships, where he had 7 goals and 11 points in nine games.
"The start of last year was tough," he said. "I wasn't playing that much, and you start to doubt yourself, the confidence isn't there. The second half I got to play a lot, played with some pretty good linemates. You start to realize what got you to this level and you start to get some points and you realize that you can be a point producer in this League.
"The success I had in the second half was a big confidence booster, the World Championships in Switzerland added on top of that, that kind of put me over the top confidence-wise. I knew heading into the season what I had to do, I trained really hard. I came into the season prepared and as confident as I've ever been."
And the early reviews this season are outstanding. He goes into Tuesday's game in Toronto with a goal in six-straight games, tying him with Vincent Lecavalier
for the second-longest goal-scoring streak in team history. He's tied for second in the League in goals, he leads the team in scoring with 16 points, and he's had a hand in exactly half of Tampa's 32 goals. His line, with Martin St. Louis
and Ryan Malone
, has been the team's most effective trio. He's averaging 19:30 of ice time per game, up from 14:56 last season. He's also being used on the penalty kill as well as the power play.
"I have no problem doing that," Stamkos said of killing penalties. "It's a big part of the game, especially when you get a lot of penalties in a row. You don't want to sit on the bench, you want to get out there and get your legs gong. That's part of being an all-round player and that's what I want to be."
It's also a part of Stamkos' growth on and off the ice.
"He's a young leader," Tocchet said. "He has his ups and downs, (but) he has bounce-back. He doesn't have long periods of bad games or bad shifts. He can bounce back, that's what I like about him. He can have a tough night, but he's resilient. I think with young kids, that's a special thing there."
Lightning assistant coach Wes Walz
, who has worked closely with Stamkos, believes bottoming out with the healthy scratch was the best thing that could have happened to him.
"Probably the first 15-20 games, they were a real struggle for Steven," Walz told NHL.com. "As a young kid he's never really had to deal with not dominating, adversity. The first time you have to deal with it, you're not sure exactly which way to turn. Sometimes your mind can really put you in a tailspin. He was going through that, (but) I personally knew he was going to get out of it. I think the adversity he had to deal with at the beginning part of the year has catapulted his game forward quicker than if he was just so-so at the beginning of the year."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.