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Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Stamkos gradually gets acclimated

After recording points in only two of his first 17 games, Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos has seven over his past seven.

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After recording points in only two of his first 17 games, Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos has seven over his past seven.

TAMPA — The game is slowing for Steven Stamkos.

Not that it's slow, far from it. But as the Lightning's rookie center explained, "You realize you have a little more time and space out there than you thought."

Call it a light bulb moment.

"It's been an adjustment," Stam­kos said, "but I'm starting to get it."

What Stamkos is getting is more responsibility.

Interim coach Rick Tocchet last week put the league's No. 1 draft choice on the power-play point, a spot usually reserved for the savviest players.

He also is getting rewarded.

Stamkos' 11 points on three goals and eight assists entered Wednesday tied for eighth among league rookies. He has a goal and seven points in his past seven games, and his 23 shots in that stretch are one behind team leader Vinny Lecavalier.

It has been a quiet resurgence overlooked amid Tampa Bay's 2-7-5 downturn that has every chance of worsening tonight against the surprising Bruins at the St. Pete Times Forum.

But considering Stamkos, 18, had points in just two of his first 17 games — "I was a little tentative, a little hesitant" with the puck, he said — the development is notable, especially the promotion to the point.

As the last line of defense during a power play, it is a treacherous position that demands confidence and a balance between creating offense and protecting the puck.

"He's got to make good decisions," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "He's got to be smart. He's got to read the play. It's a lot of pressure on a young guy."

St. Louis said Stamkos can handle it.

"It's his hockey sense, speed, his hockey awareness," he said.

"I really don't have a problem with it," said Stamkos, who played point as a junior. "You get to see the whole play. You have to be aware of the defensive side of things, and that's always in the back of your mind. But you have to use your judgment.

"You're not going to try to beat a guy one-on-one at the blue line. You have to be smart. If there's no play, get the puck deep and let the forwards control it."

Former coach Barry Melrose said Stamkos had to earn playing time. Tocchet gave it to him to see if he could keep it.

Stamkos averages just 13:27 but hasn't played fewer than 16 minutes the past four games and in two played more than 20.

"Tocc sat me down and said he's going to have some confidence in me," he said.

Tocchet called Stamkos a "work in progress," and while he said Stamkos must improve his defensive zone coverages, isn't concerned about his minus-10.

"We do video, and he misses a man and he'll say, 'Yes, that's my man.' I love guys like that. He knows he made a mistake and admits it. That's a leader. That's a captain in the making."

And a point man.

"I've got no problem putting him back there," Tocchet said. "He's got some composure. Listen, we have to live and die sometimes with the mistakes with these kids.

"As long as he works hard, I'll go down swinging with him back there."

Moves: With ECHL Augusta out of business, D Kevin Quick and C Chris Lawrence are with AHL Norfolk pending a move to another ECHL team, general manager Brian Lawton said.

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

Finding success in their first season

The league's leading scorers among rookies:

Player Team Goals Assists Points

Kris VersteegBlackhawks7 1522

Derick Brassard Blue Jackets8 11 19

Mikhail Grabovski Maple Leafs10 8 18

Blake Wheeler Bruins8 4 12

Patrik Berglund Blues6 6 12

Jakub Voracek Blue Jackets4 8 12

Jannik Hansen Canucks3 9 12

Mikkel Boedker Coyotes5 6 11

Nikolai Kulemin Maple Leafs5 6 11

Steven Stamkos Lightning3 8 11

TONIGHT

Lightning

vs. Bruins

When/where: 7:30; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

TV/radio: Sun Sports; 620-AM

Injuries: Boston — D Andrew Ference (leg) and D Aaron Ward (leg) are out; G Tim Thomas (illness) and LW Marco Sturm (concussion) are day to day. Tampa Bay — C Chris Gratton (lower body), LW Gary Roberts (groin), LW Matt Pettinger (knee) and LW David Koci (hand) are out.

Key stats: The Bruins have won five of six in Tampa over the past three seasons. … RW Phil Kessel has six goals and five assists in a nine-game points streak. … Thomas is tied for third in the league with two shutouts and entered Wednesday second with a 1.88 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. … Boston is tops in the East with 17 road points (7-3-3).

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie Stamkos gradually gets acclimated 12/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 12:04pm]
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