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Stamkos shines at prospects camp

Not for anything, the NHL's No. 1 draft choice said, but he wants to be called Steven, not Steve.

His nose isn't in the air; Steven Stamkos is about as grounded as an 18-year-old can get.

It's simply a matter of what's right.

"That's what it says on my birth certificate," he said. "It's no big deal. Lots of people call me Steve. But I go by the official word, and that's with an N on the end. So I'll stick with it."

If Stamkos builds on the foundation he set at Tampa Bay's prospects camp, he can be called whatever the heck he wants.

Asked what the center showed in Victoria, British Columbia, owner Oren Koules chuckled.

"You'll see," he said. "I don't want to put too much pressure on him."

Apparently not a concern for coach Barry Melrose.

"He's one of the most beautiful skaters I've ever seen," Melrose said. "I hate to use the word beautiful in hockey, but your eyes are drawn to him on the ice. I know he was with kids and stuff, and it's not a fair comparison. But a great skater is a great skater."

Anything else?

"He really shoots the puck," Melrose said. "He has a real quick wrist shot. It's the shot you want to have in today's game."

Nobody is comparing Stamkos with Sidney Crosby, who dropped 102 points in his rookie season. Dave MacQueen, Stamkos' coach at OHL Sarnia and a former Lightning assistant, has said 25 goals and 60 points are reasonable expectations.

Melrose's expectation is Stamkos add as much muscle as possible to his 6-foot-1, 184-pound frame before the Sept. 16 opening of training camp.

"He's cut," Melrose said. "He'd be a male model if he wasn't a hockey player. But he's slim. He's 18 years old. He's not a man yet."

Melrose recalled the Lightning's 6-4, 219-pound superstar Vinny Lecavalier as "a beanpole with shoulder pads" when he entered the league at 18 in 1998.

Still, he said of Stamkos, "He's got to realize that's his weakness right now, his size. He's going to be playing against men now. … We've got him on a nutritional program, and we've got strength and conditioning coaches talking to him every week. So he's going to get bigger fast and heavier fast. But he's still a boy right now."

With skills Melrose is eager to see in an NHL setting:

"What happens with guys like that is he plays better with better people. If you watch him play with the kids, he gives them the puck and goes to an area and expects it back and doesn't get it. But if he's playing with a (Ryan) Malone or a (Radim) Vrbata, he'll get the puck back. It's a case where the better the people he plays with, the better he'll look."

Stamkos said he looked just fine in a Lightning jersey.

"When you put it on at the draft, it's one thing," he said. "But when you put the practice jersey on the first time with your equipment and you're skating with the coaches and prospects, it was a whole new level for me.

"It's very exciting to put that jersey on and compete in practice. It's going to be another thrill when I put it on in a game."

When Stamkos really starts making a name for himself.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Stamkos shines at prospects camp 08/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 3:19pm]
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