TAMPA — Steven Stamkos is understandably eager to get on with it, already.
The top overall selection in the draft, the Lightning's new building block brought a wide-eyed wonder to preseason camp this week, continuing to absorb, acclimate and understand how he fits in at this point in his young career with so many unfamiliar players.
So far, so good, he said.
"I thought I was able to keep up with the pace," Stamkos said. "I thought my skating was pretty good, and the chemistry with the linemates is always going to get better and better each time you step on the ice. So things are looking really positive right now."
Coach Barry Melrose agreed and will issue Stamkos a simple mandate for tonight's preseason opener in Pittsburgh, where the Lightning and Penguins will field rookie-dominated lineups.
"What I'm going to tell Steven is, 'I just want you to go out there and play the exact same way you did in juniors,' " Melrose said. " 'Try the same things. Do the things that made you great. Play with confidence. Shoot the puck. Make plays. Just work your butt off.' "
Stamkos also will experience playing against two of the league's best in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He said he been starstruck during practice.
"It's happened here at camp with guys like Vinny (Lecavalier) and Marty (St. Louis) and (Ryan) Malone and (Gary) Roberts," Stamkos, 18, said. "There's so many guys I've watched as a young kid. It would be pretty cool to see a guy like a Malkin or a Crosby step out onto the ice with me. It would be a thrill."
Just seven of the 20 players on the trip — forwards Jussi Jokinen, Ryan Craig, Michel Ouellet and Jason Ward, goalies Mike Smith and Karri Ramo and defenseman Matt Smaby — played in the NHL last season.
Melrose said he is, "looking for talent; how competitive a guy is; if he's got guts; is a team player" in early preseason games with a handful of roster spots attainable.
"Once the games start, we'll learn very quickly about our young players," Melrose said.
But even some of the veterans leftover after ownership, coach, front office and roster overhauls believe they have things to prove.
A few locker stalls down from Stamkos, St. Louis, the 2003-04 MVP, sat after the first practice Tuesday swilling a peanut-colored nutrition drink and squinting at all of the change in the room. St. Louis, 33, came to the Lightning in 2000 and was one of the foundation pieces laid for what became the 2003-04 Cup champ.
Now he and captain Vinny Lecavalier oversee the construction process from a completely different perspective.
"Definitely, I have a different view on things now, being an older veteran guy, than I had eight years ago. But it's the same game. It's the same process," St. Louis said. "You have to come together as a team, and that's something you have to do again this year."
Though the trades of veterans such as defenseman Dan Boyle and 2004 playoff MVP Brad Richards breed uncertainty, St. Louis said, "We haven't been this deep in I don't know how long."
And in an odd way, especially for an established veteran, St. Louis sees himself in much the same situation as Stamkos.
"I like to gain people's respect, and this is a great opportunity with all these new players, new coaches, new management," he said. "I feel like I have to prove myself again. I'm excited about that."