Stamkos head of the class

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

It's a June to remember for Steven Stamkos, and being the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft is only part of it.

Like other 18-year-olds across the country, Stamkos had his big high school graduation day this month. He picked up his diploma -- with marks at the top of his class -- at Brother Andre Catholic High School in Unionville, doffed his cap and posed for pictures just like the other grads.

This weekend at Scotiabank Place, Stamkos will attend a graduation of a different kind. At about 7:15 p.m. tomorrow, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Jay Feaster will step to the microphone, call Stamkos' name as the No. 1 pick in the draft and he'll officially graduate to the big leagues.

This is the moment Stamkos has been waiting for his entire hockey life. It's the reason, as a toddler, he fired pucks at the baseboards in the dining room and pretended to score the winning goal in the Stanley Cup final.

"I'm really excited. It's going to be fun," said Stamkos. "This is, obviously, something that is going to be pretty special. You look at the people in the past who have been taken No. 1 overall and they've had pretty good careers in the NHL. You want to be part of that group.

"But, for me, being No. 1 is not the end-all and the be-all. It's more of a chance to have bragging rights that you were taken with the top pick in the draft. Once you get to the camp, you're all on an even playing field and battling for a spot."

By all accounts, the Bolts aren't just getting a good player, they're getting a good person. A person who cherishes his education, despite the millions he's about to make playing hockey.

"School is important to Steven Stamkos. He has been well raised by his parents. We're talking about a kid who has an 86% average," said Andrew Sawyer, a Columbus Blue Jackets scout who billeted Stamkos in Sarnia -- where he starred for the OHL's Sting -- for the last two seasons. "This isn't just a kid who works hard on his hockey skills, he also works hard on his studies.

"I'm pretty sure that Steven is going to make his living off hockey, but he knows how important it is to have good marks and do well in school. He does his homework and he's just a smart kid."

In many ways, Stamkos is a typical kid.

WING, MOVIE NIGHT

Sting defenceman Mark Katic, an Islanders draft pick, was his roommate in Sarnia. After dinner, they'd head downstairs and get out the PlayStation for a game of NHL 08 or Madden. Tuesdays were reserved for 29cents wings at Crabbies and a cheap movie with teammates.

Stamkos and Katic also pick up the laptop to talk to friends on Facebook.

"I know people think I'm just saying this, but he really is just a good kid," said Sawyer. "We get kids who knock on the door all the time and ask if this where Steven Stamkos and Mark Katic live. I'll yell downstairs, tell them to come up and they visit with the kids.

"They're good to these kids. They'll ask them about what kind of hockey player they are. They'll spend time with them. I'll go dig up a picture so they can sign something for them."

The real reason Stamkos is No. 1 is simple: The kid can play. He has talent, desire and smarts. All three are key elements for a long, successful career in the NHL and were the reasons Stamkos had scouts drooling.

"He's incredibly skilled and he drives to the net, taking all the skills bravely to the net," said E.J. McGuire, the chief North American scout for the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau. "He is not a perimeter-skills player, he is a drive-to-the-net player. I would not call him a power forward. He's a powerful forward.

"Could he be a power forward? Yes. But, he's not a stand-in-front-of-the-net power forward, because that's not his forte. His forte is to use his speed to get around the defencemen and drive right through to the net. When he gets there, he's got the hands and the ability to tuck it upstairs."

Scouts also point out Stamkos has been well-schooled defensively.

"People look at his offensive flair, but the key to his success is the fact that he plays the game both ways," said Detroit Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill, who saw Stamkos play often this past season. "In the playoffs, he was leading the rush and he was the first guy back-checking.

"The one thing that has to happen is (the Bolts) have to let him come in at his own pace. We put expectations on these guys too fast. Can he play? Yes, but, let (Stamkos) decide through his play if he's going to be in the NHL next year. Don't let the roster make that decision."

Stamkos said he'll be ready.

"I'm looking forward to the chance to play," said Stamkos. "I'm really excited."

School is out for the summer. The school of life in the NHL is about to begin for Steven Stamkos.

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Favourite...

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