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After his success at the recent world championship, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos can tell critics: 'I told you so'

Steven Stamkos, center, with Matthew Lombardi (18) and Drew Doughty, had seven goals for Canada at the world championship.

Associated Press

Steven Stamkos, center, with Matthew Lombardi (18) and Drew Doughty, had seven goals for Canada at the world championship.

Steven Stamkos was not a bold talker during the season.

Milestones were acknowledged but not hyped, and he always was deferential to teammates and coaches.

So it was noteworthy this week when the Lightning center said he has kind of enjoyed tweaking his early season critics.

"There's definitely a little bit of that in the back of your mind. I definitely would be lying if I said there wasn't," he said.

"With the naysayers and the people who don't think you can do it, you go out there and prove them wrong. It's a satisfying feeling deep down inside."

Stamkos' latest bit of I-told-you-so came at the world championship, where his seven goals in nine games for Canada tied for the tournament lead and he was named to the all-tournament team.

That after finishing the season third among rookies with 23 goals and fifth with 46 points.

As for the critics, including former Tampa Bay coach Barry Melrose, who said Stamkos was not NHL-ready, well, listen to Predators coach Barry Trotz, a Canada assistant:

"To me, he is going to be a great player."

Trotz is a good one to make that evaluation. Nashville faced the Lightning only once during the season, in November, in the middle of a stretch in which Stamkos, the No. 1 pick of the 2008 draft, had four goals in his first 41 games and was hearing he was overmatched.

In other words, Trotz was in show-me mode when Stamkos, 19, got to Switzerland to begin the three-week tournament, in which Canada lost to Russia in the gold-medal game.

Trotz called Stamkos' game mature and loved his hands and how Stamkos managed tactics.

"I was impressed with how good defensively he was," Trotz said. "And he was very good at recognizing his game had to change in certain areas in terms of what teams were doing. He adapted.

"His ability without the puck also really surprised me. Those exceptional offensive guys always play well with it. But he wasn't stubborn. When he was in a position to make a play, he would make them. If he was in a position to live to fight another day, he made those decisions."

"I wasn't surprised he could keep up," Lightning and Canada teammate Marty St. Louis said. "He's got all the skills. He reinforced what we saw (during the season), that's for sure."

Stamkos said rooming with captain Shane Doan, whom he called "probably one of the nicest guys in hockey," and later with St. Louis, helped his comfort level on a team on which he was the youngest player.

He said scoring on his first shift off a pass from St. Louis, another all-tournament player, "was a pretty big moment."

The biggest, though, was reinforcing the strides he made during the season.

"You want to go there and prove you can be a good player at that level," Stamkos said.

Now that he has, "You don't want it to stop. I feel like I'm playing great, and I do wish the season could start a little sooner. But everybody needs a break."

Even his critics.

After his success at the recent world championship, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos can tell critics: 'I told you so' 05/22/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 22, 2009 8:48pm]
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