Even after 14 seasons in the NHL, a veteran like Steven Stamkos still can be surprised every once in a while.
Such was the case Tuesday afternoon, when the Lightning captain learned he had been voted in by fans for the All-Star Game, the seventh of his career and most in franchise history (surpassing Martin St. Louis’ six).
Stamkos, who turns 32 next month, emerged from the “Last Men In” campaign to make the Atlantic Division squad. Each team had one player nominated, with the top vote-getter in each of the four divisions being added to their respective All-Star teams.
“It’s always a huge honor,” Stamkos said. “I’ve always looked at them that way. You never really know how many opportunities you’re going to get.”
Stamkos’ 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) entering Tuesday night’s game against the Kings led the other seven nominees in the Atlantic. His competition included Toronto center John Tavares (15 goals, 20 assists) and Florida forward Aleksander Barkov (15 goals, 14 assists).
With some “great players” in the divisional race, Stamkos wasn’t sure if he’d move the needle on the fan vote.
“This obviously is a unique situation with the fans voting me in,” Stamkos said. “I was a little surprised, but it’s kind of cool. I’ve never been in that situation before, so obviously the fans in Tampa and all over got their votes in, which was pleasantly surprising.”
Given the local market’s size compared to some of the others, Stamkos said, he wondered if he would make the cut.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be (surprised),” he said. “I know how amazing the fans are in Tampa, that’s for sure. And maybe we’ve gained even some more fans all over the league after the past couple of years. I think that just makes it unique, that the fans were the reason that you got in, so that’s really cool.”
Stamkos was one of two players among the league’s top six scorers who was not selected outright for the game. Colorado’s Nazem Kadri (49 points) was the other.
“Good on him,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He deserves it. …H e’s had a heck of a year. We’re really proud of him, and you love to see guys be a part of this.”
Even before training camp, Stamkos had a feeling this season would be different. Completely healthy for the first time in three seasons, he was able to spend the offseason working out instead of rehabbing in Toronto.
Stamkos’ production this season has been even more impressive and crucial to the Lightning because of longer-term injuries to players such as Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.
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“Stammer’s stepped up the most for us, for sure,” linemate Anthony Cirelli said. “Missing those two guys is not easy holes to fill, and you’re not going bring someone in to replace them. So for Stammer to step up the way he did all year, it’s a reason why we are where we are at this point in the year. He brings it every single game ... and he’s been a huge key for us all year long.”
Stamkos will join defenseman Victor Hedman and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who were selected by the NHL Hockey Operations Department when rosters were announced last week. Hedman and Vasilevskiy will be participating in their fourth All-Star Games.
All-Star Game activities, including the skills competition and 3-on-3 tournament, will take place Feb. 4-5 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Eleven players from each division will compete in the tournament, which is comprised of three 20-minute games. The two Eastern Conference divisions and two Western Conference divisions will play, with the winners to meet in the final.
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