Steven Stamkos smiles as he answers quesions during the NHL Top Prospects luncheon in Detroit on Monday May 26, 2008. The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn
DETROIT - Steven Stamkos was all ears Monday when a certain Pittsburgh Penguins superstar offered some friendly advice to the top-rated prospect in next month's NHL entry draft.
"It was so special to meet a player of Sidney Crosby's calibre," Stamkos said enthusiastically after a prospects event at the Stanley Cup final.
"He just said, 'Just enjoy the time,"' added Stamkos. "He remembered that he was in our shoes not so long ago. He just said, 'Enjoy the combine and draft coming up and keep working hard because the players are getting better and better it seems.
"If you have the work ethic, you should be fine."'
Time flies when Crosby, still only 20, is already in a position to advise young stars. And Stamkos was hanging on every word.
"I remember watching him in London when he was in the Memorial Cup with Rimouski," said Stamkos. "And all the media attention surrounding him. I like the way he deals with things both on the ice and off the ice, it's tremendous.
"Hopefully I'll be playing against him one day."
Try next year. Stamkos will be the first overall pick June 20 in Ottawa and has a legitimate shot at making the Tampa Bay Lightning in September.
"My mindset right now is to play in the NHL next year," said Stamkos, a native of Markham, Ont. "It wouldn't be that bad if I'm back in junior but my main goal right now is to make it to the NHL. I've been working really hard in the gym this summer."
Stamkos led the OHL's Sarnia Sting and was second in the league with 58 goals in 61 games this season. He also added 47 assists. Many feel he's ready to make the jump although when he entered the dressing rooms of the Stanley Cup finalists Monday he realized the challenge that lay ahead.
"Just seeing the guys in the dressing room today and how physically mature they are, I know I've got a lot of hard work ahead," said Stamkos. "But I think I'm up for the challenge."
The Lightning have made no secret of the fact they'll be taking Stamkos.
"After the draft lottery I got an e-mail from Mr. Feaster," Stamkos said, referring to Lightning GM Jay Feaster. "He wanted to meet with me. I was actually supposed to go down this weekend but we had to re-schedule because of the events here.
"We'll probably meet with them at the combine and hopefully get a visit down to Tampa after that."
After Stamkos, it's anyone's guess. There's a rich group of talented blue-liners available. Los Angeles has the second overall pick followed by Atlanta, St. Louis, the New York Islanders, Columbus and Toronto.
Zach Bogosian of the OHL's Peterborough Petes is the second ranked North American prospect by NHL Central Scouting followed by No. 3 Drew Doughty of the OHL's Guelph Storm, No. 4 Tyler Myers of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, No. 5 Luke Schenn of the Rockets and No. 6 Alex Pietrangelo of the OHL's Niagara Ice Dogs.
Russian forward Nikita Filatov is the top-ranked European skater and may also crack the top 10 next month in Ottawa. He wasn't on hand Monday but the top six North American prospects were. And they unanimously agreed meeting the Penguins and Red Wings players was the highlight of the day.
"It was awesome seeing what those guys were like," said Bogosian, a native of Massena, N.Y. "It was fun to be in the Penguins dressing room because Jordan Staal drove me around when I was younger in Peterborough.
"And I've played with Ryan Whitney's brother and Ryan Malone's cousin so I had some conversations with those guys. That was nice."
Bogosion, six foot two and 197 pounds, ranked second overall among OHL defencemen with 50 assists and led the Petes in overall scoring with 61 points (11-50). He looks up to veteran NHLer Chris Chelios.
"When he was younger you saw how many points he put up," said Bogosian. "He had a mean streak, too. That's why I kind of model myself after him. He's obviously a great player, he's doing something right to stick around when he's 46 years old.
"I got to meet him today. It was brief but it was awesome."
Doughty, six feet and 219 pounds, was ninth in defencemen scoring in the OHL with 50 points. Seeing 18-year-olds like Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner, both OHL stars in 2006-07, make it straight to the NHL this past season gives him hope he can follow suit.
"Playing against Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner in London, I've played them so many times," said Doughty, a native of London, Ont. "And they're both unbelievable players. So it does give me a little confidence that I can hopefully play in the NHL next year. That's my main focus."
Myers, who had 19 points and 97 penalty minutes in 65 games with the Rockets this season, is the tallest among the top-ranked prospects at six foot seven. He wants to beef up on the 204 pounds.
"You look at guys like Patrick Kane and see how small and skinny he was last year," said Myers. "I'm kind of like that but just a bit taller. You get excited about that. But I do feel I need to put on some more pounds before I make that step. Once I do that I feel I will be ready."
Myers, who was born in Houston before moving to Calgary, doesn't shy away from dropping the gloves.
"I had five fights this year," he said with a grin. "It was fun. I plan on doing it a little more next season."
Schenn, six foot two and 216 pounds, had 28 points and 100 penalty minutes in 57 games with the Rockets this season. The Saskatoon native is often compared to Adam Foote.
"I was watching Adam Foote in the playoffs this year," said Schenn. "He keeps the game very simple and he's very physical. And from what I hear forwards don't like playing against him. He's a proven winner, won Stanley Cups and played for Team Canada. I definitely like the way he plays."
Pietrangelo, six foot three and 206 pounds, was seventh in OHL scoring among defencemen with 53 points (13-40) in 60 games. He looks up to Chris Pronger.
"He's got a great blend for a guy his size to be able to skate like he does and move the puck," said Pietrangelo. "I may not be as mean as he is. I also look at guys like Nick Lidstrom - he's certainly a tremendous talent."