When Steven Stamkos was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, he had the weight of the organization on his shoulders. Even though he was drafted by Tampa, everything that he did following the draft was under the microscope. Not only had the Lightning centered a marketing campaign around the young forward, he made the team’s roster out of training camp and because he was the number one pick, he was expected to contribute immediately. When he didn’t, pundits like Pierre Maguire were quick to shit on the Lightning organization and describe their concern for how his situation could stunt his development. He should be returned to junior so that he can play at the World Juniors. And no, just because TSN owns the broadcast rights do I have any selfish reasons for wanting to see him there.
Of course it didn’t help matters that the Tampa organization was in a bit of a clusterfuck. Quarrelling owners, Barry Melrose brought his mullet back behind the bench, only to be fired just 16 games into the season. For hockey fans, watching these events unfold were like watching that Rob Scuderi hit on Jason Chimera. It was ugly, but it was just something that you couldn’t take your eyes off of.
So when Melrose was fired, assistant coach, Rick Tocchet was given the reigns. One of the first things that he did was change the way the organization had handled Steven Stamkos’ development. Instead of playing in back-to-back games, Tocchet would make Stamkos a healthy scratch for the second game and encourage the 18-year old to do two things: One, work on his strength and conditioning in the gym; And two, to study and take notes from the pressbox so that he could learn the NHL game.
“At times I definitely saw myself being pushed around or not winning as many battles that I’d like to win,” Stamkos said. “It’s a big difference coming from junior (and) playing against men now. It’s a big adjustment, but in the second half I worked with our strength and conditioning coach. We got a program going and I got stronger and faster.
“Sometimes I have to realize that I’m still young and still growing into my body and I still have years in front of me. You don’t want to go too fast. It’s a gradual process, but I needed to get stronger to play in this League.” ~ Steven Stamkos, via NHL.com
It seems like a pretty straightforward formula — Time at Gym = Increased Strength = Increased Confidence = An Edge That Professional Athletes Need
“The work paid off. In junior you could get by on your skill, but here there are so many skill players and you have to have a combination of things to be a successful player. You don’t realize that coming in, but I definitely realize that now.”
The similarities between Karlsson and Stamkos are striking. Both were criticized for their size and strength and defensive shortcomings and…
…as I write this, Erik Karlsson has just been sent to Binghamton of the AHL. Not that surprising really. Even though I felt that Karlsson had outplayed Campoli, his contract situation and the return of Filip Kuba from injury means that moving him to Bingo is an easier move for the organization at this time. Conversely, it also reflects the organization’s belief that at some point this season, Karlsson’s going to be able to help the Big Club, otherwise they wouldn’t burn a year off of his entry-level contract. (Editor’s note: As a commenter named Josh alluded to, this isn’t true. Because of Karlsson’s status as a junior aged European, a year on his entry-level deal will not be burnt if he plays professionally with Bingo. Provided he doesn’t play in 10 games with his parent club, everything’s fine. Nikita Filatov’s a perfect example of this. Even though he played 39 games in the AHL last year, his 3-year entry-level deal is still in its infancy.)
Hopefully, Karlsson can get an increased workload and adapt to the North American style.
Hit me up with your thoughts in the comment thread.