TAMPA — Steven Stamkos is no dummy.
The Lightning's star center knows that after scoring a league-best 96 goals the past two seasons, he always will be judged by the amount of offense he brings.
But in his fourth season, Stamkos realizes there is more to being an elite player than zipping one-timers past goaltenders. In a sport that thrives on inspiration and motivation, the Unionville, Ontario, native wants to provide that, too.
"I'm feeling I want to take more of a leadership role this year," Stamkos said. "I've been in this league a while, you go through playoff experiences. I'm comfortable that I've earned the respect of the veteran guys."
Coach Guy Boucher agrees and named Stamkos, 21, an alternate captain for Friday night's 5-2 preseason victory over the Panthers at the St. Pete Times Forum.
There is no indication the letter is permanent — last season's alternates to captain Vinny Lecavalier were defenseman Mattias Ohlund and wing Marty St. Louis — but Boucher clearly wants to reinforce and nurture Stamkos' perception of himself as a leader.
"It's not just saying we want more," Boucher said. "It's a gesture that I have confidence that he deserves it. I have older guys I could have given it to and didn't."
"He's a great kid," Ohlund said. "He's got a lot of experience, and we all know the type of player he is. Everybody respects him, so absolutely he's ready."
There is a saying in hockey that a player doesn't need a letter on his jersey to lead, the best example being St. Louis, who for years without a letter was a strong voice in the locker room.
A player does, however, need to bring his "A" game. That is why it is important for Stamkos, with a new five-year, $37.5 million contract, to continue his resurgence that began during last season's playoffs.
Stamkos had just five goals in the regular season's final 28 games. His six goals and 13 points in 18 playoff games were good but don't tell the whole story, he said:
"I just learned it doesn't always take scoring a couple of goals or getting a couple of assists to have a good game. Going through that in the playoffs, when I felt good about myself, whether it was a blocked shot or a big hit or winning a big faceoff, you know the offense will take care of itself. As the playoffs progressed, the offensive numbers went up, too."
For Boucher, that realization showed him Stamkos is ready for the next step in his development.
"He went from being a star," Boucher said, "to a winner."
"You just wish you knew that at the beginning of the playoffs," said Stamkos, who had an assist and four shots in 17:02 of ice time against the Panthers. "But now you know now, so you just want to come in with confidence, and I think I am."
That applies on the ice and off. Stamkos said he is ready to "speak up (in the locker room) at the appropriate time."
"We know how he can play, and it's not necessarily bringing a certain amount of points," Lecavalier said. "We know he's going to bring more leadership this year. He deserves it."
More than that, Boucher said, "He earned it."