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  1. Lightning

Lightning's Steven Stamkos on Marty St. Louis: perfect mentor, friend

Steven Stamkos, left, says Marty St. Louis was not only his mentor on the ice but a great friend off it, and still is.

TAMPA — Marty St. Louis hasn't worn a Lightning sweater in nearly three years.

His accomplishments might seem like ancient history, from the banners hanging in the Amalie Arena rafters to records in the back pages of the media guide. St. Louis' No. 26 will be retired Friday in a ceremony before the game with the Blue Jackets.

But you can see the lasting impact of St. Louis on the current Lightning team, especially captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos, 26, said the person and player he has become was greatly shaped by St. Louis, his longtime friend and former linemate who retired in 2015.

So it should come as no surprise that when Stamkos was making the biggest decision of his career last summer in re-signing with Tampa Bay, St. Louis was one of those who advised him.

"He was my mentor, for sure," Stamkos said. "Everyone saw the chemistry we had on the ice, but not lot of people know — just because they don't get the behind-the-scenes look — of how much he meant to me, not only as a teammate but as a great friend."

When Stamkos was an 18-year-old rookie after being takes No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft, St. Louis took him under his wing and showed him the type of work ethic required to be a pro. "It was the perfect situation for me," Stamkos said.

Stamkos has had some of his best seasons while on a line with St. Louis, who assisted on 101 of his 321 career goals. He learned from St. Louis how to adapt in a league that's constantly becoming younger and faster. Stamkos' game has evolved, in how he scores to his two-way game, including becoming a key contributor on the penalty kill.

"You can see the way 'Stammer' wants to be better, wants to push his teammates to be better," said defenseman Victor Hedman, 26, who also played with St. Louis after being take second overall in the 2009 draft. "A lot of that, I think, is from the way Marty did it. He was an unbelievable mentor to Stammer, and me."

When Stamkos took over as captain from St. Louis in March 2014, after St. Louis requested and received a trade to the Rangers, he had already developed his leadership style from watching St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. Stamkos' personality fits St. Louis' vocal style, sparking the team with between-periods or postgame talks.

"(St. Louis) knew when it was time to step up and talk, or he'd go out and have a great shift, led by example," Stamkos said. "He was the unique guy that can do it both ways."

Stamkos isn't the only Lightning player St. Louis helped mold. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat played on a line with St. Louis in their rookie year, 2013-14, when both were Calder Trophy finalists. Johnson said St. Louis was "one of the smartest players I've ever played with," helping him and Palat accelerate their development. St. Louis would offer tips after every shift, influencing the way they play and think the game today.

"He helped us with our confidence," Palat said. "He'd tell me, 'You're playing with me now, you're first line, we're not going to dump the puck all the time, you've got to make the plays.' "

Stamkos, the face of the franchise, said the undrafted St. Louis might have never held that "face" moniker because of the other greats on his teams, including Lecavalier. But as Stamkos prepares his speech for Friday's ceremony, a few even more important words will no doubt come up.

" 'Heart' and 'soul' are two words that will forever be attached to Marty St. Louis," Stamkos said. "For me, he was that, is that and will always be that to this organization. That's something that nobody can take away and something I know when Marty looks in the mirror, he'll be pretty proud of."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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