If you haven't seen Steven Stamkos
this offseason, there's a perfectly good explanation: He's been spending all his time in the workout room with former teammate Gary Roberts
Unlike last summer, when a publicity campaign to introduce Tampa Bay's prized rookie to the hockey world begged to question, "Have you seen Stamkos?" the 19-year-old center isn't burdened with such marketing stunts this time around. He's used the time wisely by dedicating himself to becoming stronger and faster.
"I changed up my offseason workout plan and decided to work closely with Gary Roberts
for 7-8 weeks throughout the summer," Stamkos told NHL.com. "Everyone knows he's a pretty fanatical guy off the ice and his workouts are tough, but I wanted to stay in shape and learn from him. I definitely see a difference in my body and muscle composition. I didn't want to bulk up too much because that'll slow you down, but I do feel stronger and that's one area I really wanted to improve."
Stamkos certainly isn't the only player in the League learning from the best -- Dallas Stars
forward James Neal
also trained with Roberts at his gym in Toronto. Stamkos' program includes four days at Roberts' facility for muscle training and two days of cardio -- also prescribed by Roberts -- on his own.
"Gary is obviously a great player and is well-respected on and off the ice, so for a young player like myself to learn from him is a great opportunity," Stamkos said. "It was great to get a chance to play with him (in 2008-09) because he would always go to the net and create space for his linemates. He was also a great communicator and taught me how to be a professional."
If there's one thing Stamkos learned in his initial season in the League, it's that showing too much respect can sometimes be detrimental.
"You certainly respect the players and the game, but maybe I was giving players too much credit at times," Stamkos said. "As a kid, you idolize all these players because it is the best League and the best game so you immediately think there will be no time or space. But if you want to be one of those players controlling the play and controlling the puck, you have to know when to get rid of the puck and when to make that extra play. It's a fast game but you have to play confidently to succeed."
An extensive strength training and video program instituted by Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet
aided Stamkos' development in his first NHL season. He ultimately finished with a franchise record for goals by a rookie in a season with 23, breaking by two the mark set by Brad Richards
in 2000-01. His 46 points were 18 more than Vincent Lecavalier
had as an 18-year-old rookie in 1998-99, and he became the second-youngest player in NHL history to record a natural hat trick on Feb. 17 in a 5-3 loss to Chicago.
"The player-coach relationship (with Tocchet) was great, and the guys really respected him -- he knows about our on and off ice issues," Stamkos said. "He really wanted to develop me and turn me into a better player. He gave me more minutes on the ice and that allowed me to become more confident with the puck. That definitely played a part in my success at the end of last year."