Much of the hype surrounding the 2008 NHL Entry Draft surrounds Steven Stamkos.
The 18-year-old Sarnia Sting star forward already has been named the top-rated player by NHL Central Scouting, he’s dined with Gordie Howe, hung out with Sidney Crosby before a game, been besieged by teams and media for interviews, and even is the subject of his own Web site.
Heck, he’s got his own troupe of dancers!
So is one player worth all this attention?
“He’s not only a great player but a mature person for his age,” said Atlanta Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell. “He will have an immediate impact in the NHL. There are special players that come along every year, especially in the last four or five, and there’s no reason why he couldn’t jump in and be that same type of impact players like (Evgeni) Malkin and (Sidney) Crosby and all these young players.”
“The team that takes Steven Stamkos is going to get one of the fastest skaters in all of the Draft,” said NHL Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire. “Steven goes to the net fearlessly with that speed and brings a bit of an edge and a bit of an aggressive attitude that every team wants ... (he is projected to play on) a top line in the NHL and a team would be foolhardy to use him anywhere else. With maturity, Steven is going to be an NHL star for years to come.”
“We’ve interviewed a lot of the top-rated defenseman,” said Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster, “and if you ask them who is the toughest guy to play against, the answer is Steve Stamkos.”
“It’s impossible to stop him,” said Zach Bogosian, the Peterborough Petes defenseman ranked second to Stamkos. “When he has the puck, you can’t get it away from him. He protects it so well, and he’s such a great skater, it’s hard to defend a guy like that. Definitely his stickhandling and his skating set him apart from everyone else in the draft.”
“His speed and his smarts,” added Drew Doughty, the Guelph Storm defenseman ranked third by Central Scouting. “He’s very fast and he’s got great hands. He pretty much has every offensive tool that you need. He has the great shot. That’s why he put so many points up in our league and why he’ll probably go first overall.”
Feaster, the man charged with making that first pick, admits Stamkos’ selection could be the worst-kept secret in hockey.
“Certainly the new ownership has made it clear to us that they really like him,” said Feaster. “I think they’re excited to have a player of that caliber be the first pick on their watch.”
To accent that point, the Lightning have produced a Web site, Seenstamkos.com, and fans can purchase “Seen Stamkos?” T-shirts, bumper stickers and wrist bands. There’s also a portion of the site that allows fans to send in their best “Seen Stamkos?” image. A few of the photos feature members of the Tampa Storm Arena Football League team dance troupe decked out in provocatively cut “Seen Stamkos?” shirts, with the photo caption calling them the “Seen Stamkos Dancers.”
Not bad, eh?
“At first I thought it was fans that put it up that wanted me to go to Tampa,” said Stamkos, “but I read an article somewhere that Tampa Bay actually put the Web site up. It was pretty exciting for me when I saw that, I was pretty overwhelmed. I’m pretty honored that they would go to that length to promote me and hopefully they do take me.”
Stamkos is more than just a fancy marketing campaign or some cool YouTube videos – just search for Stamkos on the site and an array of physics-defying goals are there to watch.
“He’s a complete player,” said Feaster. “I’m impressed by the fact that he’s responsible as he is defensively. Most guys that have the skill that he has and can do things at such a high speed – and that’s the thing, he does everything at a high speed – most of those guys don’t worry about playing the other side of the puck, but he does. He’s a very mature young man. He is a pretty complete package right now.”
To go along with his 58 goals, 47 assists and 105 points in 61 games this past season, Stamkos was a team-best plus-18 and added a team-high five shorthanded goals. He continued his excellent play in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, finishing fifth with 11 goals despite playing just nine games, the fewest of any player in the top 20. He also had a strong showing at the World Junior Championships, finishing with a goal and five assists for six points, tying him for second in scoring as the second-youngest player on Canada’s gold-medal squad.
"With maturity, Steven is going to be an NHL star for years to come.” -- E.J. McGuire, Director of NHL Central Scouting
“He’s like those Bugs Bunny cartoons, he’s everywhere,” said Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray. “You look out and he’s the first guy on the forecheck and you look in your own zone and he’s the first guy back … so many players with (his) speed come over the (blue line) but have to slow down to make plays. He doesn’t slow down to make those plays and that’s really unusual. He doesn’t only play well offensively, but plays well defensively and he’s not afraid to get his nose dirty.”
Beyond that, Stamkos is easy to get along with away from the ice, something his fellow top prospects have found out.
“I know Stammer really well now, we’re good buddies,” said Doughty. “I think when you have that kind of status, you think he’s going to be the cocky, arrogant type, but he’s nothing like that. He’s very humble, very fun and he’s just like one of the guys. Likes to have a lot of fun and enjoys playing the game of hockey.”
If Stamkos has his way, the next game of hockey he plays will be in the NHL.
“That’s my main objective coming into the summer, to work hard and train hard,” he said. “We got a first-hand glance when we went to Detroit (prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final). The guys were physically mature … they’re so big and strong and fast. I’ve got a lot of hard work to do, but my main goal is to be in the National Hockey League next year.”
Some around the NHL believe that is a distinct possibility.
“He’s dynamic and he has speed and instincts for the game,” said Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney. “He was a dominant player in the (OHL) playoffs when the pressure was on and a good player for the World Junior (Championships), which is a 19-year-old tournament and he’s 17 years old, so all those intangibles make him the real deal. Tampa would be pretty lucky to get him.”
Feaster believes if Stamkos can add some muscle to his 6-foot, 176-pound frame, he can do it.
“It’s the strength, I think that’s the biggest thing,” said Feaster. “At the end of the day it’s about playing in a men’s league and it’s about playing against men. … I think that’s the biggest thing – he’s going to have to work hard this summer, be ready for training camp.
"I’m sure he’s going to do that. He’s a bright young man, he’s a hard worker and I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.” Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer