As the Tampa Bay Lightning get ready to face the New Jersey Devils, today is a day Lightning players and fans alike relish and celebrate for another reason: it is star sniper Steven Stamkos‘ 23rd birthday. To celebrate this occasion, let’s take a peek at his marvelous career thus far.
Stamkos began his career with the Markham Waxers of the OMHL, winning eight minor league hockey titles in a row before leading them to an OMHL Cup title in 2006. Following that win, he was selected first overall by the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, going on to post 92 points in 63 games during his first season. His second season was better, as he recorded 58 goals and 105 points in just 61 games played.
This success got the attention of NHL Central Scouting, as he was the top-ranked prospect throughout 2007-08′. Stamkos also won the CHL’s Top Draft Prospect Award that same year.
As was expected, the Lightning wasted no time selecting Stamkos first overall, even making “Seen Stamkos?” billboards a regularity around Tampa Bay. He struggled after being signed to an entry-level contract though, with much blame laid on an incompetent head coach, Barry Melrose, and upper management, as he saw only 10 minutes of ice time per game. However, once Melrose was fired in mid November things got a bit better, with him putting up 19 points during his final 20 games.
February 2009 marked the first of many Stamkos’ hat tricks, though in a losing effort, at home against the Chicago Blackhawks. Though left off Canada’s 2010 Olympic roster, he did make appearances in the 2011 and 2012 NHL All-Star games, even winning last season’s shootout skill event prior to Sunday’s actual game.
He also got his first taste of the postseason in 2011, scoring 13 points over 18 games as the Lightning made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins. Though decent, the thing that stood out most about his first playoff experience was the toughness he showed, as Stamkos was hit by a Johnny Boychuk slap shot that broke his nose during Game 7 of the conference finals. He left only for a few shifts though, returning with a full cage protecting his face.
Stamkos’ NHL career is nothing short of spectacular thus far, as he holds two Rocket Richard trophies (2009 & 2012) given to the league’s leading goal scorer, and finished second to Evgeni Malkin with 97 points last season. He also became the 20th player in league history, first since Alexander Ovechkin in 2007-08′, to score 60 goals in a season. He did so by beating Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on the season’s final day, earning him a standing ovation from Jets fans who’d booed him up until that point.
Those 60 goals also set a new Lightning record for goals in a season, eclipsing captain Vincent Lecavalier‘s previous record set during 2006-07′. Finally, his five overtime goals last season set a new NHL record.
During the lockout, Stamkos continued his offseason training regimen, working out at former player Gary Roberts personal gym in the Toronto area. He also attended one of the early negotiating sessions.
Having signed a five-year contract during the 2011 offseason, Stamkos will be leading the Lightning for a few more years. If he earns it, something I have no doubt will happen, he should be inked to another deal which keeps him wearing Lightning blue for the remainder of his career.