Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos never imagined his first NHL game would be in Europe.
He believes that’s taken the edge off his nerves heading into Saturday’s game against the New York Rangers in Prague, Czech Republic (noon ET).
The first overall pick in this year’s NHL draft by the Lightning feels less hype and scrutiny in Prague than he would if the team opened at home in Tampa.
“I’m probably not as nervous just because it’s not in Tampa or any North American city, where as a kid you dream of playing your first NHL game,” Stamkos said Friday from Prague. “You don’t dream of it over here in Europe, but it’s definitely going to be a great game and a great adventure for me.”
Prague feels anything but foreign to Stamkos. He spent three days in the city last December with Canada’s junior team prior to the start of the world junior hockey championship in nearby Pardubice.
The 18-year-old from Toronto played in all six pre-season games for the Lightning, had a goal and two assists and led the team in shots on net with 11.
Stamkos, six foot one and 196 pounds, has a high-end skill set and world-class speed.
He spent much of training camp on a line with Ryan Malone and Radim Vrbata, but said the last couple of practices in Europe he’s played alongside Vrbata and veteran Mark Recchi.
“I think we’re going to start the year off like that if practice is any indication,” Stamkos said.
The 40-year-old Recchi, who is nearing the 1,400-point mark for his career, was a mentor for Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby when he broke into the NHL. Stamkos feels he can also benefit from Recchi’s tutoring.
“We were joking around the other day and I think he said he’s assisted on six or seven of his teammates’ first NHL goals in the past couple years, so we’re hoping that trend continues,” he said.
But Stamkos wants a victory Saturday before he wants his first NHL goal.
“I (scored) in my first OHL game and obviously it’s a different level here,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll continue that trend, but I want a win and that’s the main thing.”
The Lightning and Rangers play a second game in Prague on Sunday before returning to North America.