Steven Stamkos, during a recent practice at the St. Pete Times Forum, sent a sizzling one-timer, short-side and high, through a seemingly miniscule opening over the right shoulder of goaltender Mike Smith, who was positioned right where he should have been. "As a goalie, that really (makes you mad)," said Lightning television analyst and former Flyers goalie Bobby "The Chief" Taylor, who was watching from the stands. "You know it's coming, and you can't do a thing about it." Stamkos last season rode that shot to 51 goals, which tied Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby for the league lead, and an NHL-best 24 goals on the power play. The performance made Stamkos, 20, one of the faces of the league, and the center was one of a handful of players the NHL invited to New York for a preseason media tour. The big question: Can Stamkos do it again? "It's going to be even harder," he said. "People know that you've done that. There's going to be tighter checking. There's going to be people on you on the power play. They're going to know what your tendencies are. It's going to be a challenge, but I guess that's what separates the players who can do that consistently and the players that it's a one-time thing." "We're fortunate in Tampa we get to see him every night," former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said. "I'm excited to see what he's going to do." What makes Stamkos so good? Let us count the ways.
Yes, it is fast and pinpoint accurate, but its most distinguishing characteristic is how quickly Stamkos gets it away.
"The guy has one of the quickest releases in the game," Flames assistant general manager and former Lightning GM Jay Feaster said.
Though the aptitude comes naturally, Stamkos works on the shot diligently during practice.
"You can never be good enough," Stamkos said. "You can have all the skill in the world, but you need that skill with the hard work, and that hard work will let your skill show. It's something I take pride in, working hard in practice and working hard in the gym in order to let your skill shine on the ice."
Marty St. Louis
Asked how much playing on a line with St. Louis contributed to his success, Stamkos said, "Probably all of it. He's probably the best playmaker I've ever played with."
A level head
Stamkos credits his parents and his minor coach, Paul Titanic, with making sure his ego doesn't match his accomplishments.
"Nobody likes someone who is bragging about themselves and being cocky," Stamkos said. "You work hard. You work for your teammates. You work for yourself, and whatever happens, happens. Whether it's negative stuff, whether it's positive stuff, you can't get too high or too low."
Respect for the game
Former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk has had several conversations with Stamkos and likes what he has heard.
"He's respectful of older players and has a passion for the game," Andreychuk said. "But what makes him that kind of player is how he works hard at practice, how he takes care of himself, how he prepares for games."
Said Stamkos: "No one is bigger than the game. Some learn the hard way, and some work even harder because of the success that they had in order to keep being successful."
Speed to burn
Coach Guy Boucher said speed might be the factor most overlooked in Stamkos' development.
"I think speed is probably what has to be his greatest asset, even more than his shot," Boucher said.
"Without the speed, he won't get any shots except on the power play. And we want to get some five-on-five goals."
Stamkos said he idolized centers and all-time greats Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. He wore No. 19 in minor hockey in their honor. How cool for Stamkos, then, that Yzerman is Tampa Bay's general manager.
"It's very surreal," Stamkos said. "He's one of the greatest leaders of all time and is a perfect example of that model: You work hard, and you get rewarded. He's someone I try to pattern my game after."
What they're saying
"His release is so quick, you can watch all the tape you want. You know it's coming. You know where the shot is coming from, and it just doesn't matter. And let's face it: He's just going to continue to get better."
Flames assistant general manager
"His speed is just ridiculous, just effortless. Everybody else looks at it and feels like 'I have a piano on my back compared to him.' Same thing with his shot, effortless."
"The one-timer, I compare him to (Hall of Famer) Jari Kurri. He's almost as good as what Jari Kurri was with (Oilers teammate Wayne) Gretzky. His release is so quick, as a goalie sometimes you can see the way the stick is going to be going, and you can have a pretty good idea where (the puck) is going. But because his release is so fast, you have no time to read it."
Bobby "The Chief" Taylor
Lightning television analyst
"He gets to open spots. And as long as he just keeps shooting the puck at the net like that, he'll be fine. I'd like to see him get 350, 400 shots. He might score 60."
Hall of Famer and Lightning founder
"He's a shooter more than anything else. He's got some (of Hall of Famer) Brett Hull in him, but he's a lot faster. When he's on the ice, they have to be aware of where he is, and that's what Brett Hull had. You didn't want to leave him alone."
Former Lightning captain
"It's almost like that wide receiver that you double-team all the time. When he's in the offensive zone, they're going to know exactly where he is at all times, exactly. So he's going to have to really work to get open a little bit more."