Stamkos dreams in blue & white

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Memo to the Maple Leafs: You are screwing this thing up.

Admittedly it is admirable that you refuse to wilt under the criticism that has snowballed on the team since a Christmas-time free fall left you wallowing among the NHL's bottom-feeders. Wins over powerhouses like the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and the Montreal Canadiens in the past nine days showed a skeptical city that maybe, just maybe, you are not as pathetic as some would make you out to be.

Besides, no one likes quitters.

Having said that, this recent penchant of winning might eventually cost you a legitimate shot at Ontario Hockey League superstar Steven Stamkos, the consensus early pick to be the No. 1 overall selection in the June entry draft.

Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place.

But here is the aspect of this dilemma that hurts the most.

Steve Stamkos, the boy wonder of the Sarnia Sting, wants to be a Maple Leaf. Badly.

"To be a Leaf would be a dream come true," said Stamkos, who already has 80 points in just 46 games. "I idolized the Leafs growing up. I've always been a Leafs fan.

"I'm not going to lie to you. I've checked out the NHL standings. I pay attention to where the Leafs sit. I know they're near the bottom of the standings. The chance of (getting picked by them) definitely is in the back of my mind."

Don't get the kid wrong. There will be no "I'm going to play here or else" hissy fits a la Eli Manning or Eric Lindros. He's just thrilled at the prospect of getting a shot to be an NHLer.

"Ever since the OHL season began, I've just been so excited about being in the NHL draft," said Stamkos, who celebrated his 18th birthday last Thursday.

Of course, the experience would be that much sweeter if he walks on to the stage at the entry draft in Ottawa this June and is handed a Leafs cap by Cliff Fletcher or whomever is running the franchise by that time.

Growing up in Unionville, a thriving bedroom community just north of Toronto, young Steven viewed the world through blue-and-white glasses. His father, Chris, was a huge Leafs supporter and passed on that unbridled passion to his son at an early age.

"I think I was about three years old when I went to my first game at Maple Leaf Gardens," Stamkos said. "I'm not sure but I think it was Boston. I started crying when the crowd got loud."

In subsequent years the only tears being shed came from opponents who could not compete with the skilled Stamkos out on the ice.

Off the ice Stamkos would hang out with Sean Bowen, a classmate at Brother Andre Catholic High School in Markham. Sean's father, Joe Bowen, just happens to be the long-time play-by-play voice of the Maple Leafs.

"My dad played (soft) ball in a beer league with Mr. Bowen," Stamkos said. "It was fun.

"Dad's favourite player was always Wendel Clark. I kind of carried on that tradition."

Stamkos was thrilled a year ago when he had the opportunity to meet Clark after a game at the Air Canada Centre. Stamkos was accompanied by his agent, Don Meehan, Clark's long-time representative.

Interestingly, the Leafs have not held the first-overall pick in the draft since 1985. At that time they selected a gritty kid from the Saskatoon Blades named -- you guessed it -- Wendel Clark.

In order to get the top selection again, the 2007-08 Leafs must finish among the bottom five teams in the final standings.

The selection order in the first round is subject to a lottery, held among the teams that hold the top 14 picks. There is only one winning team in the lottery. That team moves up a maximum of four places in the draft order. The lottery is weighted to favour the teams with the fewest points.

In other words, to be eligible to move up to first overall under terms of the lottery, the Leafs must complete the season no better than 26th. If they keep stringing victories together, that is not going to happen.

One final point that needs to be brought to your attention, Maple Leafs. Just hours after eagerly discussing his passion for the Leafs in an interview, Stamkos went out and racked up four goals and an assist to lead his Sarnia Sting to a 9-1 win over the Owen Sound Attack.

Imagine him doing that in a Leafs uniform one day.

It won't happen if you keep screwing things up by winning.


Videos

Photos