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Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos prepared to have bigger target on his back

Sharing the league goals lead with 51 was one of many ways Steven Stamkos opened many eyes last season, his second.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Sharing the league goals lead with 51 was one of many ways Steven Stamkos opened many eyes last season, his second.

BRANDON — It was difficult this summer for Lightning center Steven Stamkos to be in public and not be noticed. That's what happens when you are one of the NHL's brightest young stars.

But even Stamkos chuckled recalling the day he and his buddies went to a Blue Jays game in Toronto. Stamkos, who grew up in nearby Unionville, began signing what he believed would be a few autographs.

Before long, he said, the line in the aisle reached about 100.

"It was crazy," he said Tuesday at the Ice Sports Forum but added, "It comes with the territory."

So does the attention Stamkos will get this season — from opposing teams devising schemes to stop him, the media putting him under a microscope and those who see last season's 51 goals, tied with Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the league lead, and an NHL-best 24 power-play goals and expect even more.

"The only advice I can give him is don't give in, fight through it," teammate Marty St. Louis said. "You have to fight through adversity, and his adversity is going to be everybody keying on him and everybody looking at him."

There is much to see.

Stamkos, who had a team-best 95 points, gets his one-timer away so quickly and with so much velocity, it matters not that goaltenders know he is shooting at the short side. Stamkos gets it by them anyway.

Stamkos is a fleet skater with a high hockey IQ, and as Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said, "He's just a real competitive kid."

"For me, he is a coach's dream," coach Guy Boucher said. "I'm still going to get in his face, but the reality is there's no baggage with Steven Stamkos."

A glimpse of the lengths to which opposing teams will go to stop Stamkos might be seen tonight, when he plays his first preseason game, against the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks at the MTS Center in Winnipeg.

"Everybody knows his shot, his speed, and wherever he's going to be on the ice, they're going to key on him," Boucher said.

"You started to see that at the end of last season, too," Stamkos said. "On the power play, guys were just standing there trying to block the one-timer."

Stamkos said keeping on the move should create separation from his defenders. But given what should be a potent Lightning offense, teams should be wary of overplaying him, Boucher said.

"If you're keying on him, then you're not keying on (Simon) Gagne or (Vinny) Lecavalier. We're going to try to get the other team to have problems keying on people," he said.

Still, he said of Stamkos, "It's going to be tougher on him. Does that mean he's going to get less points, less goals? I don't know. But the reality is everybody knows how good he is, so he has to be that much more focused."

Stamkos won't talk about specific personal goals — "When you think about numbers, you put more pressure on yourself, and that's why you struggle" — and said he is prepared for whatever teams throw at him.

"It was fun last year, and it was a good season for me personally," he said. "But I want that season in conjunction with the team having success. That means doing the little things to win."

That will get you noticed, too.

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

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos prepared to have bigger target on his back 09/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 12:17am]

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