TAMPA — You do realize what we have here in Tampa Bay, right?
Perhaps it's because we see Steven Stamkos every game. Or maybe it's because he's such a humble kid. Or maybe it's because he doesn't pound his chest or talk in a loud voice.
Whatever the reason, we often forget — or, at the very least, take for granted — that right here on the Gulf Coast of Florida we have one of the planet's best hockey players.
There he was again Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, scoring the goal that put the Lightning up for good in a 4-2 victory over the Maple Leafs.
His shining star is not just because he has the ability to score 60 goals in a season. Although let's not kid ourselves, that has a lot to do with it. The list of guys who can do that is pretty short.
These days, however, there's more to it than lighting goal lamps. It's his maturity, his quiet leadership and, yes, even his defense. It's the little things. It's everything.
"I think Steven is doing it all," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said of Stamkos, who turned 23 on Feb. 7. "He wants to do it all."
He is. Check out what he is doing.
Become a dependable two-way player
"If I look at Steven (a couple of years ago), he was a dynamic offensive player who wanted to be good defensively," Boucher said. "Now he's a dynamic offensive player who is good defensively. That's all due to his work and attitude."
Stamkos is too good of an offensive player to be an elite defensive stopper, but he now realizes he can do something on the nights he doesn't score.
"It's finding a way to be a difference-maker when you're not getting the bounces offensively," Stamkos said. "That's part of being a professional player. You have to find a way to be a positive influence on the other players."
When one of the best players in the world is willing to roll up his sleeves and do some heavy lifting, other players follow.
"It's inspiring for the rest of the players," Boucher said. "And that is really a sign of maturity on his part. It's not just welcome. It's necessary."
At the end of the 2010-11 season, Stamkos went through a horrible slump — well, horrible by his standards — when he scored only five goals over the final 28 games. While awful at the time, it might have been the best thing that happened to him.
"Adversity is a teacher," Boucher said. "At some point, it taught him that it's not about the goals. If you're not scoring, everything else matters even more."
That's why Stamkos didn't panic when he recently went through a five-game scoring drought.
"I do expect myself to produce, and my teammates expect (me to). And there probably is a correlation between our top guys not producing and our team not winning, (but) you still have to find a way to make a difference in a game," Stamkos said. "You have to realize that you can't start cheating. That's when things go from bad to worse and a snowball effect comes into play. I've learned from the past."
He has learned well. He followed the five-game slump with three goals over two games.
"It's his maturity that the five games didn't turn into 15," Boucher said.
Not just a one-shot pony
Not that long ago, Stamkos was a pretty goal scorer, a cutesy goal scorer. He scored on breakaways and dipsy-doodle moves and, of course, he had that vicious one-timer on the power play that seemed to account for 90 percent of his goals.
But now Stamkos scores as many ugly goals as anyone in the game. Take Tuesday, when he crammed in a loose puck from the crease for his team-high 10th goal. It might have been the least sexiest goal in the NHL on Tuesday night.
"He didn't become just a slave to his one-timer," teammate Marty St. Louis said. "He scores goals many different ways. You can't just rely on one thing because teams are going to take that away from you. You have to reinvent yourself, and Stammer has done that every year."
Boucher points out that even the best players in the game have the puck on their stick for, maybe, 60 seconds a game. Stamkos already had those 60 seconds down pat. Now he's mastering the other 59 minutes.
"He understands that he does a lot with the puck but not at the expense of his play away from it," St. Louis said. "He has done a good job of that."
Yeah, just maybe better than anyone in the NHL. Stamkos reminded all of us in Tampa Bay again Tuesday night.
Tom Jones can be reached at [email protected] and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.