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Hockey coaches and scouts agree; Steve Stamkos is a standout

The answer was Steve Stamkos.

"When the other players recognize it, that's something, and also when other coaches are putting out their best players to stop him," said Button.

The latter didn't have much success stopping Stamkos as he scored 42 goals and added 50 assists in 63 games in his rookie season for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting.

The six-foot, 178-pound forward from Unionville, Ont., is ranked No. 1 among prospects by International Scouting Services for next year's NHL draft.

Stamkos was among 40 players invited to the Canadian under-18 team's selection camp that opened Saturday at Father David Bauer Arena.

The 17-year-old is a virtual lock to be among 22 players named to the team on Wednesday.

Canada will try to defend its title at the eight-country Ivan Hlinka Memorial, formerly the Junior World Cup, in Piestany, Slovakia, and Hodonin, Czech Republic, starting Aug. 14.

"He's a guy that we would expect to make the team," Canadian head coach Dave Barr said. "What he brings to our team is that offensive ability, that first-line type player who makes everybody around him a better hockey player.

"He is fun and he is high-energy too. Everything is done a million miles an hour."

A couple YouTube video clips of Stamkos at the OHL all-star game skills competition are a source of both pride and embarrassment for him.

There's a clip of him wiping out into the boards during the fastest skater competition, but the one which is more compelling to watch is the breakaway drill.

Stamkos bore down on Barrie Colts goaltender Andrew Perugini and, in front of the crease, went from his forehand to his backhand while wrapping the puck around his own legs and then snapped the shot past Perugini.

"I thought 'I need something to redeem myself so the fans don't remember me as the guy who fell,"' Stamkos explained Saturday before heading onto the ice. "I tried it and was fortunate enough that it worked and it did work. "Everyone forgot that I fell and kept asking me about the move, so it paid off."

Stamkos obviously has a sense of occasion in putting that crowd-pleasing bit of hockey artistry together.

But he's also effective at battling through checks to score hard-working goals, according to Button.

"I think it's his hands and his skating," Button said. "He scored 40-something goals in the OHL last year on a very young team and whichever team he played against, the other teams keyed on him and tried to stop him.

"He was playing against older, stronger defencemen who had been in the league for awhile."

Hockey Canada head scout Al Murray says Stamkos will be one of Canada's top players in Europe.

"He's the smartest guy on the ice in a lot of games you go to," said Murray. "Steve has, at a very young age, shown an ability to control the game both from a talent point of view with the skating and puck handling and also from an intelligence point of view."

Stamkos had three goals and three assists in Sarnia's short four-game playoff run before joining Canada's under-18 team for the world championship in April.

He and defenceman Yann Sauve were underage players, meaning they were born in 1990 and playing with a team of 1989s. Stamkos excelled with two goals and eight assists in six games for Canada, which finished fourth in the tournament.

"That was the first time I ever got to put the Canadian jersey over my head," Stamkos said. "You just dream of that as a kid and now to get a second chance coming here with 40 of the best player from across the country, it's going to be very competitive and you're not guaranteed anything.

"You have to go out there and prove yourself and hopefully I get a second chance of bringing back a gold medal."

One of his objectives in his sophomore year is to earn an invitation to Canada's under-20 selection camp in December and play in a higher age bracket again.

The NHL draft hype will build around Stamkos next season, but he says he's ready for it.

He has knowledgeable people around him to give him advice. Columbus Blue Jackets scout Andrew Shaw is Stamkos's billet in Sarnia and his Sting roommate, Mark Katic, was drafted by the New York Islanders in June.

Stamkos went to the NHL scouting combine in Toronto in June and sat in on one-on-one player interviews between draft prospects and NHL clubs.

"It's a little bit intimidating when you are watching the one player sitting there and there's 15 scouts surrounding him," Stamkos said. "But you learn what kind of questions they ask and what type of answers they want to hear.

"I'll use that next year when the draft comes around."


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