VICTORIA – The Tampa Bay Lightning signed first overall pick Steven Stamkos to a three-year, entry-level contract Tuesday.
“I know it’s not going to be easy for me to step in right away,” said the 18-year old moments after putting pen to paper at a news conference at the Bear Mountain resort just outside Victoria.
“Hopefully I can earn my stripes and play well and really deserve to be there,” added the Markham, Ont., native.
The team was not releasing details of the contract, however the maximum annual salary the first-year centre can earn as a rookie is US$875,000 while the most he can make in performance bonuses is $2 million per year.
“It is obvious to all of our staff in a brief period of time that Steven is a very special young man with great potential,” Brian Lawton, Tampa Bay’s vice-president of hockey operations, said in a statement. “His work ethic and eagerness to learn have been very impressive.”
Another man impressed with the young forward’s potential is new head coach Barry Melrose, who is counting on him to be the “cornerstone” of the organization.
“Steven Stamkos is the future of Tampa Bay,” he said while overlooking the ice at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre where Stamkos is among 29 youngsters taking part in the team’s week long prospects camp, which began Monday.
“We like what we see, we like his mental makeup, we like his physical skills, he’s very gifted and he’s a good guy to start the future with, so we’re very happy with the luck of getting Steven Stamkos first overall.”
He was also very blunt about the chance the team will let him take part in this year’s world junior tournament.
“We’re hoping Steven Stamkos never plays another world junior game in his life, let’s put it that way.”
For his part, the former Sarnia Sting player of the OHL had mixed feelings.
“Obviously I’d love to represent my country again, especially with the tournament being held in Canada, but selfishly, I hope I’m playing in the NHL,” he allowed.
Not only did he make a name for himself in tournament play, Stamkos finished second in OHL goal-scoring last season, scoring 58 times for the Sting and placing fifth in league scoring with 105 points over 61 games.
Asked what he planned to do with the money he’ll be getting, he would only say he’d probably be looking to buy a new car.
“I got a “STAMMER” licence plate at the draft, but that’s on my bike.”
Also taking part in the Tampa Bay prospect camp is left winger Justin Courtnall, son of former NHLer Geoff Courtnall.
Melrose was pleased to see Justin at the camp, and even had a chance to exchange a few words with his father Monday.
“He’s much more talented and better looking than his Dad ever was, I can tell you that,” Melrose observed, before giving the young Victoria native his due.
“He’s a big kid, pretty skilled for his size and obviously a guy we’re going to be watching over the next couple of years.
“He’s got great blood lines.”
Melrose added that Geoff was a great “warrior” and despite not being drafted, ended up having a great NHL career.
“We want grit like that in our organization. So I would love to get a Courtnall in our organization.”
Melrose was only named to the coaching slot in late June, so he feels this prospect camp is a great chance for new staff to get a feel for what can be accomplished.
In the past the team has participated in prospect tournaments.
But with Lightning minority owner Len Barrie, the developer of the Bear Mountain resort, calling the tune, the week-long dedicated camp looks to be an early success.
“The mood is awesome,” said Melrose, noting that some of the players have been with Tampa Bay for a couple of years but arrived in B.C. with a clean slate as far as the coaching staff is concerned.
“We don’t know any of them, we don’t owe them anything, we didn’t draft them, apart from this year’s draft. So they can come in and make first impressions again,” he said.
“Very rarely in life do you get to make first impressions twice.”
The team is still planning to take part in another prospect camp in Traverse City, Mich., in September, then hold its main camp in Tampa Bay.
“We got a lot of depth positions we need to fill,” Melrose concluded.