TAMPA — The only part about becoming the Lightning's new captain that made Steven Stamkos nervous was the surprise announcement.
Stamkos, 24, was given a heads up Wednesday, the day former captain Marty St. Louis was traded to the Rangers, It was a no-brainer, coach Jon Cooper says.
But the center had to keep it a secret until right before Thursday's game, when he was the last Lightning starter introduced. As he popped off the bench with his new C on his sweater, the sellout crowd erupted.
"I was just hoping I didn't fall on the ice," Stamkos said, smiling. "It was a tremendous honor. It's not really the way I envisioned it happening. But under the circumstances, I want to be the leader on this team."
Though St. Louis' abrupt departure sped up the process, the Lightning believes it was only a matter of time for Stamkos — the face of the franchise — to get the title.
"He's always had exceptional leadership in him," Cooper said. "I just think he always took a backseat to other players that were here. And it wasn't that he was nervous. It was a respect thing. He wasn't going to step on anybody's toes. It just shows the class the kid has.
"But it's time. I think this is the right time for him to take this team over."
Stamkos, who scored a league-high 60 goals in 2011-12, already had the respect of his teammates and served as an alternate captain. He said he learned a lot from watching St. Louis and previous captain Vinny Lecavalier.
"You have to be a pro on and off the ice, and those guys exemplified that to a T," Stamkos said. "Marty was a guy I looked up to since I came here. You see his work ethic. You see his drive, his determination. That's contagious. And when you're a leader on a team, you might not think about it, but guys are watching you all the time. If you're doing something good, they're going to follow."
Stamkos doesn't believe he'll have to change much, and teammates say he's right, pointing out he already has been one of the Lightning's leaders the past few seasons. Center Nate Thompson, who has played with Stamkos since the 2008 top overall draft pick was 19, said his style has evolved.
"His whole demeanor has changed," Thompson said. "He holds guys accountable. He plays an all-around game. He's playing like the man, and he is. There's a reason why he's the captain.
"When Stammer speaks, everybody listens."
Defenseman Victor Hedman said Stamkos is vocal both in the locker room and on the bench and he backs up his talk on the ice. Stamkos has been accountable to the media, almost always sitting at his stall when the locker room opens after big wins and bad losses.
Stamkos points out he's not a one-man show, saying other leaders, including alternate captains Thompson, Eric Brewer and Matt Carle, can offer support. But with the Lightning in its biggest rut of the season, having lost nine of its past 12 heading into tonight's home game against the Coyotes, Stamkos is shouldering his load in trying to "turn this ship around."
"Everyone expected him to get the C," center Tom Pyatt said. "It looks good on him."
Signing: The Lightning added depth, signing undrafted wing Yanni Gourde. Gourde, 22, will be on an AHL contract, reporting to Syracuse this week, for the rest of this season and a two-way contract for 2014-15 and 2015-16. He had four goals and 21 assists in 25 games with Worcester of the AHL this season. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder also has played 30 games this season with Kalamazoo of the ECHL, posting 15 goals and 19 assists.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]