Steven Stamkos is staying one step ahead of his opposition.
A year ago, he shared the NHL's goal-scoring crown with Sidney Crosby thanks in large part to a hard one-timer, which accounted for nearly half of his 51 goals. The scoring has continued this season, but a change in approach has seen the Tampa Bay Lightning centre get more goals from closer to the net.
"(It) hasn't always been from that one-timer spot where a lot of people think I score all my goals from," Stamkos said this week. "I try to mix it up. I knew coming into this year a lot of teams were going to focus on that particular shot. I'm just trying to go to the areas where you score goals.
"I've scored a couple goals with tip-ins, a couple rebounds in close."
Only two of his 10 goals this season can be considered trademark Stamkos—where he is stationed on the off wing and blasts home a one-timed shot.
The 20-year-old has no shortage of tools at his disposal and found himself leading the league with 10 goals and 20 points entering play Friday. Stamkos is still getting used to seeing his name at the top of the scoring charts.
"It's pretty surreal," he said. "I can't believe it's already my third year in the league. Things just seem to fly by. When you're up there (in scoring), it's definitely rewarding. You've worked hard for what you achieve.
"At the same time, I'm pretty fortunate here in Tampa to get the opportunity that I am—with the amount of ice time, with the players I'm playing with. It all goes hand in hand."
Interestingly, his success has come with less ice time than many of his contemporaries. Twenty-seven NHL forwards were averaging more than the 20 minutes nine seconds Stamkos had been given through 12 games.
It sets up as an important season on a couple levels for Stamkos. He's in the final year of his entry-level contract—talks on an extension are expected to commence soon between GM Steve Yzerman and agent Mark Guy—and he's anxious to get his first taste of the NHL playoffs.
The Lightning are off to a solid start, with a 7-3-2 record entering Saturday's game in San Jose. Stamkos gives much of the credit to new coach Guy Boucher, who was brought in by Yzerman over the summer.
"The coaching staff's been unbelievable," said Stamkos. "The structure they've brought in, the systems they've brought in, the respect factor's there. Everyone's bought into the system, everyone's on the same page and everyone's playing their roles. It's been a pleasure to play so far. ...
"Just our practices, every single drill that we do has a purpose for something we're trying to do in a game. There's nothing that we're doing just for the heck of having a practice."
In many ways, a cloud has lifted from over the organization. In just his third NHL season, Stamkos is playing under his third different coach, second general manager and second ownership group.
The new regime comes with a feeling of stability that the previous one seemed to be lacking.
"It's a good feeling," said Stamkos. "For us who have been here the last couple years, they haven't been that great. ... I think everyone just feels like it's been a fresh start."
Even though Stamkos has been using his one-timer a little less to score, he's continued to work on his shot "every day." It's one of the best in the entire league at the moment and he believes it can still get better.
Interestingly, it was once the weakest part of his game. That began to chance around the time he was 10 years old.
"I was always a good skater back then, but I could never really shoot the puck," said Stamkos. "(My dad Chris) took me to a shooting school—it was 1-on-1 with an instructor in the Mississauga area, it was just on that synthetic fake ice. He just basically taught me the technique of shooting.
"It's really the same as a golf swing, a tennis shot, the pitcher's mechanics. You don't have to be the biggest and strongest guy to have a good shot."
Stamkos has shown this season that he doesn't always have to use that good shot to score. Among the beneficiaries from his hot start are the friends who wisely selected him in their hockey pools.
"I've been getting a couple texts here and there from people who are pretty happy," said Stamkos. "I just tell them I'll try to keep it going."