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Tampa Bay Lightning

Stamkos a reluctant superstar on biggest stage

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Hockey takes a break from game action to assemble in Ottawa for this afternoon's NHL All-Star, a showcase to display the top talent in the game today.

The spotlight will shine bright, highlighting some of the league's top players in Canada's capital city.

With two of the most recognizable players absent – Sidney Crosby continues to recover from a concussion while Alex Ovechkin opted out after being hit with a three-game suspension last week – one might argue that Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the league's leading goal scorer entering the break, rests somewhere near the top of the list as a star among the stars.

"This game, the goal has always been (to be) kind of a top-five star," Detroit star Pavel Datsyuk said during Friday's media day. "I think it's (Pittsburgh's Evgeni) Malkin, Stamkos."

When the puck drops at ScotiaBank Place and the stars hit the ice for this year's gala event, the brightest stars in the game will take the stage. Stamkos, it would seem, should be near the top of that roster, even if he doesn't feel like he's part of the group.

"I don't really see myself as the guy leading the league in goals, it's hard for me," Stamkos said. "Through my eyes, I see areas that I need to improve and want to be that guy. But you never see yourself as one of the top players in the league. And I'm not sure why. But that's why, when you get selected for events like this, other people take notice.''

In just his fourth season, his penchant for scoring goals has garnered plenty of attention.

With that knack for the net and a nose for goals, no player in the league has scored more goals since 2009-10 than Stamkos, who has 128 goals. The only other player to score at least 100 goals in that same time frame is Ovechkin, with 102.

Entering this weekend's game, Stamkos once again sits atop the leader board with 32 goals this season – five more than any other player – and is the only player currently on pace to crack the 50-goal barrier.

With those types of credentials, Stamkos, in his fourth season, is obviously one of the top stars playing the game today. Gifted with blazing speed, a golden shot and a winning attitude, Stamkos has the tools to play the game, a subject many will write about and discuss throughout a hockey-filled celebration held in a hockey-mad market.

"For a few days he's the center of attention, a little bit, with all the goals he's scored this year and leading the league in goals,'' teammate Marty St. Louis said. "He's in a hockey Mecca and I'm sure he's going to feel pretty important for those couple of days.''

But does that make him one of the game's top names?

On the surface, it's a no-brainer. Ever since he was selected first overall in 2008, it seems Stamkos has been a household name. Even before Tampa Bay made him the top selection, the "Seen Stamkos" marketing campaign by the team reached global levels.

In his second season, he became the third-youngest player in league history to score 50 goals in a season and tied Crosby for the league lead in goals.

Yet, despite all of his hockey accomplishments before the age of 22, when it came to popularity among the fans for the top three forwards for this year's All-Star game, Stamkos finished 16th with 185,342 votes, more than 700,000 votes behind leading vote getter Daniel Alfredsson.

While there is obviously some ballot stuffing in regards to the votes as the top-three forwards were all from the host team – Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek joined Ottawa captain Alfredsson – the disparity in votes was substantial.

"The votes, to me, have nothing to do with notoriety,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "The fans are voting for their favorite players from their favorite teams, so cities with large hockey fans are going to vote for their guys. …To me, if it was a different vote and it wasn't about the player on your team, he would be right up there.''

Though Vinny Lecavalier and St. Louis are the stalwarts on the Lightning, Stamkos might be the most identifiable player associated with the franchise. Promos for Lightning games on national television prominently feature Stamkos and he is the cover boy for EA Sports' NHL '12 video game.

And when it comes to endorsement deals, Stamkos has nearly a handful of them as a pitch man for Tissot watches, Garnier Fructis hair care products, RBC bank and Bauer hockey equipment, which includes a new concussion-reducing helmet unveiled on Friday that Stamkos intends to begin wearing when games resume on Tuesday.

All of those endorsement deals are with Canadian companies and any advertising campaign runs only in markets north of the border, which logically means Stamkos should resonate with Canadian hockey fans, even if he plays for a team in a southern United States market.

That doesn't seem to be the case when it comes to league-wide appeal, judging by the voting process for the All-Star game.

Despite that perception, however, there can be little doubt where Stamkos ranks when it comes to ranking him against his peers. The 21-year-old is one of the best in the game, no matter where he plays.

"Canadian cities are obviously huge when it comes to hockey, but I love playing down here,'' he said. "Our fans are great. We saw it with the run last year, and this year the rink is packed and we are getting that notoriety around the city a little more. But there is still the sense that you can go to the mall or go out for dinner, and while the odd person may recognize you, they let you enjoy it and relax.

"So it's the best of the both worlds.''


eerlendsson@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7835

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