NHL at the quarter-pole

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos skates away from Toronto Maple Leafs' Alex Steen ...

Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos skates away from Toronto Maple Leafs' Alex Steen (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:22 PM ET

TORONTO - Steven Stamkos doesn’t know if he can keep up this ridiculous scoring pace.

But he’s certainly going to try.

With 20 goals in his first 21 games, the young Tampa Bay Lightning forward is on track to finish the 2010-11 regular season with 78 goals, the most of any NHLer since Brett Hull drained 86 back in 1991. His 35 points, meanwhile, translate into 137 over an 82-game season, a mark that has not been achieved since Jaromir Jagr racked up 149 in 1996.

Maybe goal scoring is down for the rest of the league. But not for Steven Stamkos.

When the early returns for all-star game balloting were released Tuesday, five players — Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Nicklas Lidstrom — had received more votes than the 78,883 Stamkos had compiled.

No matter. The fans are free to pick whomever they choose, just like QMI Agency is.

And, in our estimation, Steven Stamkos easily is the top story of the first quarter of the NHL season.

His numbers are mind boggling, especially when you consider he is only in his third NHL season.

Of all the big-name stars around the league right now, the best performance by a player in their third season belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin, who tallied 113 points in 2008-09. Ovechkin had 112 the previous year.

“I have to admit, it’s not the first time I’ve heard those projections (of a 78-goal, 137-point season),” the personable Stamkos said in a phone interview Tuesday night from Tampa. “I don’t know what to think really, other than it’s actually quite flattering.

“But, at the end of the day, I’m a realist. Sometimes I have to take a step back to keep my perspective on things. When it comes right down to it, it’s tough to keep up a goal-a-game pace, especially in this league.

“Having said that, I going to do my best to keep it going.”

Stamkos lists a number of reasons for his success, particularly “the chance to play with, in my opinion, the top playmaker in the league, Marty St. Louis.”

The fact that the Markham native is on pace to enter Golden Brett Territory in terms of goals is interesting too. As pointed out by Don Cherry in Coach’s Corner, the penchant shown by Stamkos to go down to one knee to quickly rip a one-timer is quite similar to the form used by Hull.

“To hear your name compared to someone like that is humbling,” Stamkos said. “It’s just a technique I learned in order to get more power and accuracy on my shot. You are not always going to get a perfect pass, so this helps get more velocity on it.”

Through it all, he always seems to be wearing that trademark smile on his mug.

“Behind the scenes, when things aren’t going well, I’m not always grinning, believe me,” Stamkos said. “But I’ve only been in the league just over two years, I’m only 20 years old and I’m playing the game that I love. Why wouldn’t I feel lucky and be happy?”

With serious issues like concussions and the recent controversy involving Colin Campbell’s emails making headlines the past eight weeks, a feel-good tale like the one Stamkos is authoring is a positive spin on a league that is thirsting for one.

As the league reaches the quarter pole, there are a number of others; specifically, Sidney Crosby, who is neck-and-neck with Stamkos in points; and goalies Carey Price and Tim Thomas, two guys who have rebounded from sub-par seasons to post some eye-popping numbers.

To this point, however, Stamkos is the choice here as the frontrunner for the Hart Trophy as league MVP at the quarter pole, although Crosby, Price, Thomas and a number of others likely will have a say when all is said and done.

It should be fun to see how it all plays out over the next 60-plus games.

And, for that matter, if Steven Stamkos can continue to flirt with hockey history.


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