Stamkos for Team Canada?

BRUCE GARRIOCH

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

TAMPA -- Keep an eye on Steve Stamkos.

While many were wondering about the No. 1 selection in the 2008 NHL entry draft after the way he started the season, the 18-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning centre has played his way on to Team Canada's radar screen for next month's world championship in Switzerland.

While C Vincent Lecavalier and RW Martin St. Louis are automatics to be invited to play for Canada, Stamkos is an interesting name to watch.

A month ago, he wouldn't have gotten a second look, but he's one of the most improved players in the NHL and is up to 19 goals this season. He's made great progress under coach Rick Tocchet.

"He's a great kid and he's very mature for his age, but every kid has to make an adjustment and it's a lot different when you are a No. 1 pick," said Tampa GM Brian Lawton yesterday. "I know from my experience as a No. 1 pick (with Minnesota in 1983), so I've kept a close eye on (Stamkos). It takes time for kids to get accustomed."

Lawton said Stamkos had to adjust physically and work on his skating. Tocchet has worked with Stamkos to boost his confidence. He has been buoyed by playing with Martin St. Louis on the right and Ryan Malone on the left.

"I wish the season wasn't going to end so soon," Stamkos said. "With the way things have been going the last little while, I would like to have kept going a little longer. I've gotten a chance to play with two great players in the second half ... They have helped me so much in finding confidence and a comfort zone in my play."

The Bolts would like to see Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos in Switzerland.

"I've spoken with (Canada GM) Doug Armstrong," Lawton said. "We're friends and I support the program. I've told our players that we want them playing in April."

OFF THE GLASS: Tocchet will have the interim tag removed from his title at the end of the season. He has agreed to a three-year deal that has to be signed ... RW Dany Heatley scored his 35th goal of the season, but there are concerns about his play. "Sometimes with a guy like (Heatley) it's a little bit of confidence. He's trying to do too much," and coach Cory Clouston said. "It goes back to the less is more sometimes. It's not from a lack of effort and it may appear that way sometimes. He's trying to do too much. He's trying to beat guys 1-on-1 when maybe it's not the right time to do it. He's not trusting his shot at times and he's not driving the net. Sometimes when you don't have the confidence and you are struggling a little bit (it happens). Instead of looking like you're working hard, you almost look like you are flat-footed at times."

AROUND THE BOARDS: The Senators can expect invitations to the world championship once they're officially eliminated. There could be as many as seven players from Ottawa in Switzerland. Team Canada is looking at Heatley, C Jason Spezza, C Mike Fisher and D Chris Phillips, but hasn't made any final decisions. Spezza is not a shoo-in because Canadian officials are worried about his giveaways. Captain Daniel Alfredsson (Sweden), D Anton Volchenkov (Russia) and D/LW Christoph Schubert (Germany) will each get invites ... Clouston hasn't been impressed with D Chris Campoli. "He wants to impress and he's had some very good games for us and it's no different than anybody else. He was a guy who had opportunities to shoot the puck and didn't. He jumped in the rush and the reads weren't exactly the right reads."

THE MORNING SKATE: Senators LW Nick Foligno had his first NHL fight with Atlanta's Nathan Oystrick in the third period Saturday. Foligno said he didn't drop the gloves a lot in junior with Sudbury. "Maybe one or two times a year," said Foligno. "I was mad at what happened and the situation we were in. I just decided to fight. It worked out. I don't have too many bruises on my face. It's part of the game. I was telling (Fisher) the other day, 'I gotta get one before the year is over.' I like that part of the game. Maybe I'll start doing it a little more." ... Lawton said he won't be dealing Lecavalier. "I keep saying the same thing, 'As far as I know, Vinny Lecavalier is playing tonight for the Tampa Bay Lightning.' It's beyond belief that people keep writing it," said Lawton ... Expect to see 2007 No. 1 selection Jim O'Brien join Binghamton in the next couple of days. O'Brien's Seattle Thunderbirds were eliminated from the WHL playoffs late Saturday. O'Brien finished with 62 points (27G-35A) in 63 games. "He's on his way there now," said assistant GM Tim Murray last night. "He can help them. He was one of Seattle's main offensive threats. He'll going to Binghamton, play with the men and that's just another hurdle for him."

BRUCE.GARRIOCH@SUNMEDIA.CA


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