Judge Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet's tenure by rookie Steven Stamkos

The education of rookie Steven Stamkos continued last week, and it might be the most enduring and underappreciated legacy of Rick Tocchet's first season as Lightning coach.

It was during the morning skate Tuesday in Boston that Tocchet took Stamkos off a line with mentor Marty St. Louis. He reunited them for the game, but the message was clear: Playing with St. Louis is a privilege, and if Stamkos' game kept sliding, the separation could continue.

Though Stamkos still is not at the level he was in March, he admitted he needed the warning.

That is how you handle a 19-year-old, with a firm hand and flexibility.

Tocchet, associate coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Wes Walz don't get enough recognition for how they have handled last summer's No. 1 overall draft pick, but it speaks loudly to how Tocchet runs things compared with former coach Barry Melrose.

Melrose said Stamkos was not ready for the NHL and played him accordingly. Tocchet also believed Stamkos was not ready in areas such as strength and defensive awareness. But instead of letting the kid languish, he made him better with off-ice workouts and video tutorials with Walz. Stamkos even took notes during three games in which he was scratched.

The result: Stamkos, with 9 pounds of new muscle, entered Saturday fifth among rookies with 42 points and tied for third with 21 goals, equalling Brad Richards' team rookie record.

"A lot of coaches, with an 18-year-old, it's 'figure it out on your own,' but (Tocchet) really helped him," Bruins wing and former Lightning Mark Recchi said. "But you have to have a willing partner coming back, and (Stamkos) was. He's going to be a heck of a player. He's a franchise player, and he's going to be fun to watch for a long time."

It's easy to look at Tocchet's 19-29-14 record entering Saturday and wonder if he made a difference. But with an injury-depleted team that has had 49 players suit up, including an astonishing 21 defensemen, you have to look beyond numbers.

You have to look at how he handled Stamkos.

Judge Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet's tenure by rookie Steven Stamkos 04/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, April 5, 2009 8:46am]

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