Stamkos joins new breed of skilled young OHLers

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

He is part of the new young breed that is taking over the Ontario Hockey League.

The list is extensive: Sam Gagner and Pat Kane of the London Knights and Michael Del Zotto and John Tavares.

The Sarnia Sting have their own marquee player whose potential is as good as the others. He comes along at a time when the franchise could really use a player who can fill the house and fill the net.

Steve Stamkos was the first player selected in last May's OHL draft. He came from a Markham Waxers midget team, which has produced many OHL players. Stamkos came with a big reputation and he's done everything expected by the Sting -- and more.

"This kid does things at fast and faster," said Sting coach Dave MacQueen. "The way he handles the puck, the moves, he does things in another gear. He's the real deal."

Stamkos has 19 goals and 11 assists.

"Some goals you just shake your head at and say 'wow,' " said MacQueen.

Stamkos is a lot like Tavares, Gagner and Kane -- composed, comfortable, used to the limelight.

"Things are going so well. Honestly, I'm surprised by how well I'm doing," Stamkos said, before taking on the Knights last night in Sarnia. "Coming into the OHL, the guys are bigger and stronger and I thought it would take me a little longer to adjust.

"But having coach MacQueen has really helped and some of the veteran guys on this team have told me what to expect, so that's helped. The combination of coaching and veteran leadership has helped me make the jump to the OHL."

The Sting have struggled over the last few years; fans are getting tired of waiting for a winner. Stamkos is the type of talent that can generate some excitement. And the hope is that excitement generates more people coming to the games.

His presence has helped in the standings. The Sting were second in the West Division going into last night's game.

"Obviously, I knew people were going to expect big things from the first overall pick," Stamkos said. "I just try and block that type of thing out. If you pay too much attention to that, it sometime takes you out of what you are trying to do. I just keep it in the back of my mind and just go out and play my game."

MacQueen is impressed by more than Stamkos's offensive ability.

"What surprised me and what I like the most is that he is responsible defensively," he said. "Some guys play on only half the rink. He has to be responsible because he's our second-line centre."

MacQueen credits the new rules in part for the success of these young players. Young players who haven't yet developed physically don't have to worry about fighting through every check and dealing with people who are hanging onto them.

"Steven is a great player and would have scored goals anyway," said MacQueen. "But there's so much power play time now, he gets more opportunities offensively. But there's no way I would have thought he would have 19 goals already."

Stamkos agrees. "I'm getting a chance on the power play, which I like. But the rules have helped me. I'm not the biggest guy. It opens up space for the skilled guys because (the other players) can't clutch and hold you. I've taken advantage of that."

The best news for Sting fans is that, at 16, he isn't going anywhere for a while.


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