Stamkos eyed for 2011 top athlete

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:43 PM ET

Soon after the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Steven Stamkos first overall in 2008, they started a catchy "Seen Stamkos?" marketing campaign.

Well, no further PR push by the Lightning is necessary.

Everybody, it seems, has seen Stamkos -- seen him score goals at a prodigious pace, seen him become the face of the franchise and seen him develop into one of the NHL's elite players at age 20.

And you can expect to see plenty more of him in 2011, we predict.

Stamkos was the runaway choice when sports editors across the QMI Agency chain were polled about who would win next year's QMI Agency Canadian male athlete of the year award, out-distancing his NHL brethren, Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, and the likes of UFC champ Georges St. Pierre and Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto, our 2010 winner.

That Stamkos was the pick doesn't come as a surprise to Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

"We're not into '11 yet and we're talking about him (as athlete of the year) but he's having a tremendous season so he'll be a worthy candidate, that's for sure," Yzerman said. "It would be fantastic for Steven and the Tampa Bay Lightning organization if he were to win that. He represents everything that's good about hockey and good about Canadian athletes. He's humble, he's respectful, he's very personable and he's a great competitor."

Given the way he's finishing up 2010, Crosby might have something to say about Stamkos scooping up the award in 2011.

"Yeah, he's definitely not out of the mix," Yzerman said. "What is he, 23 now? He's just getting better and better, he's not finished improving. He's developing every aspect of his game."

Interestingly, speed skater Christine Nesbitt was tabbed as the choice for 2011 female athlete of the year after being over-looked in favour of Joannie Rochette this year. Nesbitt won the gold medal in the 1,000-metres at the Vancouver Olympics and is having a dominant start to the World Cup season.

Her winning trend should continue once the calendar flips but it's going to be hard to top her 2010 success.

Better bets for next year's top female athlete, though, are soccer ace Christine Sinclair, who will lead Canada at the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany, or rising star Rebecca Marino, Tennis Canada's most outstanding female player of the year for 2010. Or perhaps even hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who last summer became the first Canadian to win a Diamond League title and might dominate again in '11.


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