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Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos nears rookie milestone

CALGARY — Talking about his impending statistical milestone brought a smile to Steven Stamkos' face.

But when the Lightning rookie was asked if he will poke some good-natured fun at Vinny Lecavalier when he surpasses his teammate's first-year points total, Stamkos wavered.

"Maybe, we'll see," he said. "I don't know if I'm the kind of guy to go up to him and say something. Maybe I'll let the media bring it up to him."

When it was, Lecavalier laughed: "I knew he would beat me."

It could happen tonight against the Flames at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Stamkos has 27 points. Lecavalier had 28.

Big picture, coach Rick Tocchet said, Stamkos overtaking Lecavalier will not mean much: "I just look at month by month that he's getting better."

Still, by doing so, Stamkos will send up a symbolic I-told-you-so flare to all those who said he was not ready for the NHL.

Stamkos doesn't say that, of course. He said he is more concerned with helping Tampa Bay win and that enough great players struggled in their rookie seasons that points are not the best indicator of future performance.

Still, Stamkos is in a unique position to be measured.

He and Lecavalier entered the league as 18-year-old No. 1 draft choices. Lecavalier, 28, has turned into one of the league's most respected players and won the 2007 Rocket Richard Trophy with a league-best 52 goals. Stamkos, 19 last month, is the future face of the franchise.

So for the Unionville, Ontario, native to be one point behind Lecavalier after 59 games to the 82 his teammate played in 1998-99 is notable. With 12 goals, six in his past 10 games, he is one behind Lecavalier, and he equaled Lecavalier's 15 assists.

"He's got pure scoring ability," Lecavalier said. "His shot at 19 is just like guys when they're 25, 30 years old."

It was on display during Saturday's practice. Stamkos was on one side of the rink, Lecavalier on the other. Tocchet was between them, alternately serving pucks for one-timers. Both sizzled shots into the net, though Stamkos fanned more frequently.

"He's got one of the greatest one-timers I've seen," Stamkos said. "For me, it's watching his technique and how he stays low and his follow-through. You don't see him fan on too many shots. That's something in the technique. You can have all the strength in the world, but if you don't have the proper technique, you won't be able to shoot the puck. That's what I'm paying attention to."

"He's been working really hard," Lecavalier said. "Offensively, it was just a matter of time before he got full confidence. You can tell with the puck, he's not afraid of making mistakes."

Stamkos, whose 27 points are ninth among league rookies, has matured in other areas, as well. Work with assistant coach Wes Walz improved his defensive awareness, and in the past 15 games, he is 53.3 percent on faceoffs (57-of-107) to raise his overall percentage to 45.6.

"Two months ago, I wasn't comfortable leaving him out on defensive zone faceoffs," Tocchet said. "Now I leave him out there."

But it is Stamkos' pursuit of Lecavalier's points total that is front and center.

"It'd be pretty cool for me," Stamkos said of passing his teammate. "Look how he turned out."

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos nears rookie milestone 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 10:09pm]
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