Big things expected of Sting's Stamkos

RYAN PYETTE, FREE PRESS SPORTS REPORTER

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

SARNIA -- After a standout rookie season in the OHL last year, there aren't a lot of "firsts" on the ice left for Steve Stamkos.

But yesterday afternoon, the 17-year-old Sarnia Sting star added one more check mark to his to-do list after throwing some punches in a second-period line brawl during his team's 3-3 tie with the London Knights at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment centre.

"My first fight in the O," he said with a grin. "That was crazy."

Even three weeks before his second season in the OHL begins, there are many who believe Stamkos will succeed Knight Pat Kane as the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft. The six-foot, 180-pounder didn't check out Kane's five-goal performance against the Sting on Friday night in London, but he did roll into Columbus this summer and saw Kane and Knights teammate Sam Gagner both go in the top six picks.

"My billet Andrew Shaw is a scout with the Blue Jackets and my teammate Mark Katic was there, so it made it a lot of fun," Stamkos said. "It meant a lot to go to the draft, see what it's all about and to see those guys that I've played with and against go high in the draft, hopefully, I'll put myself in that position."

There are some who believe Stamkos may be able to match or better last year's league-leading numbers posted by Kane, who scored 62 goals and 145 points. The Sting forward scored 42 goals and 92 points but finished second for the rookie of the year behind Kane, who is nearly two years his elder.

"I just want to improve on what I did last year," he said. "That's the goal. We have a good team here and there are good players to play with. I'm looking forward to the season."

He scored a gorgeous breakaway goal yesterday, using his speed to zip past London's defenders and roofing the puck past Knights goalie Stephen Heming.

Stamkos said he is ready for an increased workload and is willing to tackle any situation head coach Dave MacQueen will assign. There will be power play duties and penalty killing responsibilities.

The Sting have added one more mentor in ex-Knight and former NHLer Jim Sandlak, a London resident, as an assistant coach.

"It's my second year and I want to have a more important role on the team," Stamkos said. "Last year, I was able to learn from guys who had a championship attitude. Trevor (Kell) was great. He won a Memorial Cup and I learned a lot on how to handle situations from him and (defenceman) Ryan Wilson, who had been to a conference final. When you're surrounded with guys like that, it makes for a good situation."

Guelph Storm head coach Dave Barr selected Stamkos for the Canadian under-18 team that competed at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (formerly the Junior World Cup) two weeks ago in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The three-time defending champ Canadians were shut out of the medals for just the second time in the past 12 years.

"We didn't get the result we wanted, but it was still a great experience," Stamkos said. "That's what you're looking for -- to be part of a good competition like that. It was a busy summer and there wasn't much of a break, but it was a good summer and I enjoyed it and now I'm glad to be back."

He got his first fight out of the way. Now, it's on to the business of scoring goals and turning the Sting into a top OHL outfit.


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