|Sarina Sting center Steven Stamkos remains the top-rated junior player heading into the NHL Draft.
During his decade as an NHL defenseman, Bob Boughner was responsible for shutting down some pretty special offensive players.
Now as a coach, Boughner is trying to do the same thing against a player who is projected to be the top pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in June.
Boughner is a co-owner and the head coach of the Windsor Spitfires, who trail their opening round playoff series against Steven Stamkos
and the Sarnia Sting 2-1. Stamkos has a league-high five goals in those three games and is threatening to single-handedly knock Boughner and his Spitfires out of the playoffs.
"He only needs one (chance) to make a difference," Boughner told The Windsor Star on Friday after watching Stamkos score two goals in a 5-2 win. "He's that good."
Boughner is getting a preview of a problem that NHL coaches are likely to face in the coming seasons. Stamkos is a gifted offensive player who seems to find new ways to score goals. He has a deadly accurate shot, but as soon as you try to take away space for a shot, his vision allows him to spot open teammates around the net.
"He's the key to their team that makes it go," Boughner said. "You'll never stop him, but you want to limit him."
Boughner said facing Stamkos is the biggest on-ice challenge he has faced in his relatively brief coaching career.
"You need a horse on the back end to play against him and I don't necessarily think we have that one guy," Boughner admitted. "We're going to have to do it as a collective group with two or three guys. A team like ours with all these young guys, we have to do it by committee."
Stamkos is coming off of a sensational sophomore season with the Sting. He was second among OHL goal scorers with 58 and finished fifth in the scoring race with 105 points in 61 games. Had he not missed almost three weeks of regular-season play while helping Canada win the gold medal at the World Juniors at Christmas, he likely would have been pressuring Justin Azevedo
of the Kitchener Rangers for the scoring title.
Stamkos was the OHL's player of the month for February after scoring 13 goals and 22 points in 13 games. He was also recognized as the best stickhandler and best shot in the OHL's annual Coaches Poll.
"I'm really glad about the way that I've played so far," Stamkos said just before the playoffs began. "I had a little bit of a slow start at the beginning of the season, but as the team went so did I and a lot of the guys have followed."
After scoring a ho-hum four points in the first five games of the regular season, Stamkos went on to terrorize OHL goaltenders at a prolific pace. He had three four-point games in November and put together a six-point game and then a five pointer five days apart in February. He was kept off the score sheet in consecutive games just twice all season.
Stamkos said that his linemates benefited his game this season.
"It's been great for me to play with Justin DiBenedetto
and Matt Martin
," said Stamkos, who scored his 100th career goal in a four-point effort in the season finale against the Plymouth Whalers on March 15. "They are great linemates."
While Stamkos credits his linemates, playing with him has been beneficial to them as well. DiBenedetto scored a career high 39 goals and 93 points and Martin scored 25 goals and 38 points in his first full OHL season.
"He only needs one (chance) to make a difference, he's that good." - Windsor Spitfires head coach Bob Boughner
Stamkos is touted as the best in a very deep draft class this season. OHL defensemen Drew Doughty
from the Guelph Storm, Zach Bogosian
of the Peterborough Petes and Alex Pietrangelo
of the Niagara IceDogs and Everett Silvertips' forward Kyle Beach
are also projected as top five picks this season, but no one has put up a good enough performance to knock Stamkos from the top of the draft list.
Despite being the top rated player since before the season started, Stamkos said that he hasn't let it affect his game.
"I try my best to put it aside," Stamkos said. "It's pretty tough with all of the media attention and all of the rankings that come out every month. I just try to keep that in the back of my head and not let it affect my game."
He said that he isn't paying attention to the NHL standings right now and would be thrilled to pull on any jersey on the stage in Ottawa in June.
"It's every kid's dream growing up in Canada to one day play in the NHL and that's my dream," Stamkos said. "Hopefully I can make that come true."