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Stamkos eager to meet expectations with Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. - Steven Stamkos welcomes the expectations that come with being the first pick in the NHL draft.

The speedy 18-year-old forward knows comparisons to others selected first overall, including Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Patrick Kane, are inevitable. At the same time, he and the Lightning are confident he'll be able to handle the scrutiny.

"You look at Patrick Kane and, obviously, Crosby and Ovechkin, who have stepped into the league right away and made such an impact," Stamkos said Thursday during a trip to Tampa that capped a busy week which began with the draft in Ottawa.

"The media's going to put that pressure on myself. They're going to try to compare me to those players, with regards to their stats and how they played at such a young age. I think I'm ready for that. It's kind of expected with where I got drafted."

The Lightning finished with an NHL-low 31 victories last season and have already penciled the six-foot, 183-pound Stamkos in as the second-line centre. He had 100 goals and 97 assists in 124 games over two seasons for Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League.

But unlike other No. 1 picks who often are expected to take struggling teams on their shoulders, Stamkos is joining a club that has all-star Vincent Lecavalier and former NHL MVP and scoring champion Martin St. Louis to help his transition.

Lecavalier, who has scored 92 goals over the past two seasons, was the No. 1 pick in 1998.

"You've got some good veterans on this team," new Lightning coach Barry Melrose said, adding that he expects Stamkos to be a "sponge" and learn as much as possible from Lecavalier, St. Louis and others.

"When I knew I was coming here I started doing a crash course in Steven Stamkos 101. I did a lot of talking to people who coached him, people who know him. Every conversation was the same thing. 'Barry, if you're going to finish last this was the year to do it because you're getting a special player."'

The coach said it's not unrealistic to expect Stamkos to have the same type of impact with Tampa Bay that Kane, last year's No. 1 pick, had as a rookie with the Chicago Blackhawks. Both players are out of the OHL, where they had similar statistics.

"And, Kane's actually had it harder because when he walked in, he was the No. 1 centre in Chicago. We don't expect Steven to be the No. 1 centre. ... So he can come in with a lot less pressure on him," Melrose said.

The coach said the words that kept coming up in pre-draft discussions about Stamkos were gifted, intense and coachable.

That's music to Melrose's ears.

"This kid wants to be a great player," he said, "and I think he'll do the work necessary to be a great player."


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