Vinny Lecavalier knew it was only a matter of time. Steven Stamkos was coming for his record.
In a way, he has known that for 11 years, since Stamkos entered the NHL.
“The first time I saw him shoot the puck, literally his first one-timer in practice, I’m like, ‘Okay, this guy is way more of a natural scorer than I ever was,’ “ Lecavalier said.
Thursday, with a power-play goal that sparked a five-goal comeback against the Red Wings, Stamkos scored his 383rd career Lightning goal to tie Lecavalier for the team record.
“He came in the league and just the way he shot the puck, it’s just different than everybody else,” Lecavalier said in advance of Stamkos tying the record. “You knew it was just going to take time and games to get there. But he has such a natural ability to score that you knew he was going to do it.”
Lecavalier and Stamkos played together for five seasons, from 2008-13. What stood out to Lecavalier in the beginning was that natural scoring ability.
Lecavalier, the Lightning’s first overall pick in the 1998 draft, learned to be a scorer. That wasn’t how he thought of himself at the start of his NHL career. He scored 50 goals one season (52 in 2006-07), but that was an outlier. Lecavalier had one other season above 35 (40 in 2007-08) before he retired after the 2015-16 season.
Stamkos, the Lightning’s first overall draft pick in 2008, came into the league as a scorer. In his first season, he had 23 goals. The next season, he scored 51. And he made it look easy.
“He just finds ways to score goals,” Lecavalier said. “He’s just such a natural scorer, and there’s not five guys like him probably the last two generations who can score like him. It’s pretty special.”
What also has stood out for him since those early seasons is the way Stamkos has matured. At 18 he had a heck of a shot but a lot to learn. Over the past 11 years, Stamkos, 29, has improved as a player and grown into a strong leadership role. He was named the Lightning’s captain in March 2014 when the role opened with Marty St. Louis’ trade to the Rangers.
“Every year of experience made him more of a complete player,” Lecavalier, 38, said. “His leadership obviously grows by the year, and the way he plays complete games, that grows every year as well. It’s been 11 years; he’s been through a lot of playoff games and a lot of seasons.”
It does come back to that shot, though. Lecavalier figures it might be like baseball. Everyone appreciates a good hitter, but a good hitter can recognize different things in another.
Maybe a learned scorer can see something he can’t quite put his finger on and know a natural scorer.
“I’ve seen a lot of shots in my career, and my life, and you just know,” Lecavalier said. “The way (Stamkos) shoots that wrist shot and one-timer, no one does it like him. Maybe him and (Alex) Ovechkin, that’s it. Just by looking at him, you can see it.”