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Martin Fennelly Columns

Stamkos might just be spooky good

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Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 06:47 PM
TAMPA -

After another goal in a season of goals, another two-point night, there was The Kid, all 19 years of him, the Lightning's future king (future?) surrounded by the media. Only he struggled to undo his skate laces.

"Give me a second," Steven Stamkos said.

It's the only trouble he has run into this season. He hasn't wasted a second.

Thursday night at the Forum might soon be routine. Stamkos was all over the scoring sheet as the suddenly respectable Lightning overcame sloth to beat Minnesota in a shootout.

He scored the first shorthanded goal of his career. Then, with seconds left, Stamkos' nifty behind-the-net pass fed Ryan Malone, who scored to force overtime. And it was Stamkos' goal in the shootout that clinched two points for the Lightning in a game in which they might not have deserved one. The Kid was the difference.

There was even a nice touch in the shootout. Stamkos thought fancy for his attempt, but Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, whose team was starved for a shootout win, had another idea.

"Do it like Lemieux," Tocchet told Stamkos.

Tocchet won a Stanley Cup with the great Mario Lemieux, the greatest breakaway scorer in history.

"I was going to do a different move," Stamkos said. "But (Tocchet) told me do it like Lemieux, you know, right-handed shot, come in, open up the blade a bit. I listened to him. And it worked."

The Kid learns fast.

Oh, does he learn fast.

The Lightning have played 16 games and Steven Stamkos has scored 13 goals, second best in the NHL, one behind Washington's amazing Alex Ovechkin, as well as Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, whose club visits the Forum tonight.

"It's an honor to be up there with those guys," Stamkos said. "I just have to try and keep it up."

You get the feeling this is only the beginning.

"With his speed and his shot, who knows what he'll do as he grows into his body and learns the game more," said Malone, off to a brisk start himself with 11 goals. "The sky's the limit for him."

"It's spooky when you think about how good he can become," Tocchet said.

Stamkos set a Lightning rookie record for goals last season. He didn't score the 10th goal until the 57th game of the season, but he scored 13 times in the final 25 games. Then he worked out like a fiend in the offseason with former Bolts teammate Gary Roberts.

"So my confidence was sky high coming in this season," Stamkos said.

True, The Kid is carrying too heavy a lamp-lighting load these days. Where are the tenured Bolts? Marty St. Louis is still buzzing, getting assists, but he hasn't scored in 11 games. Then there's the great enigma, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier, the $10 million man, who has exactly two goals, though he had a shootout goal Thursday.

Maybe The Kid can push The Captain.

It shouldn't be that way, but there it is.

"He wants the pressure," Tocchet said of Stamkos. "He wants to learn. He's a pretty simple kid. Family is No. 1 to him, hockey is No. 2. Sometimes with a young guy, it's a fast car, a fast life. He's pretty basic. There's no maintenance with him."

When the Lightning recently went way north, Canadian press swarmed Stamkos. The pressing question: Will he now be considered for Team Canada in next year's Vancouver Winter Olympics?

"Of course I want to play for Canada," Stamkos said. "I wasn't invited to the orientation camp, though how do you complain about all those great players invited? But it fuels my fire a little bit. You have that quiet swagger in the back of your mind ... I've got some things I want to do in hockey. No doubt. You want to belong. That makes you work a little harder."

A little later, Tocchet was in a Forum hall when Stamkos walked past him.

"Lemieux," Stamkos said.

Tocchet just smiled.

Spooky.

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