Steven Stamkos (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning captain is one of the best hockey players in the world, but in the summer he also plays baseball. Many top-flight NHLers and prospects play different sports in the off-season and it's a great way to develop.
The Toronto Blue Jays are putting up enough offense to win the Rocket Richard Trophy (they have that in baseball too, right?), so it's no surprise local boy Steven Stamkos – a two-time winner of that accolade himself – dropped by to shag a few pitches himself the other day.
Stamkos is a well-known baseball fan who plays the game in the summer, despite the fact he's one of the best hockey players in the world. But he's not the only elite iceman whose sporting pursuits go beyond the arena. And for young players (and their parents), Stamkos is a great role model.
There are many reasons for elite athletes to play multiple sports as they're growing up, the most practical of which is that it may prevent injuries. The movements in hockey are very specific and not necessarily intuitive, so taking a break from the particular stride and shooting motion of the sport to engage in another athletic pursuit can be helpful.
Jakob Chychrun, a top prospect for the 2016 draft, played multiple sports at American Heritage high school in Florida and is very happy he did. Not only did it give him variation, but it actually helped stoke his fire for hockey when it was golf or soccer season.
"It turns you into an athlete and that was huge," he told me. "And when you take that time off from hockey, you get to miss the game. You work that much harder in the off-season because you can't wait to get back."
New York Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh also had a great high school experience at Cretin-Derham Hall in Minnesota. Not only did he lead the Raiders to a state title in hockey, but he also helped the school win a state title in baseball – and he played on the football team.
Similarly, Jack Eichel played baseball, soccer and lacrosse as a kid. Nathan MacKinnon and New York Islanders prospect Taylor Cammarata used to play 1-on-1 basketball against each other when they were at Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school. Toss in noted lacrosse nuts such as Wayne Gretzky, John Tavares, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk and it's not hard to see where this trend is going.
It can be hard for parents to pull their kids away from summer hockey when you have Malcolm Gladwell taking about 10,000 hours of practice, but even he acknowledged later that the rule shouldn't apply to sports. And the point Chychrun makes about passion (something Gretzky and Bobby Orr have also hit on in the past) is important too, especially for youngsters who have so many options for extra-curricular activities these days.
Why burn kids out with year-round hockey when the greatest to ever play the game were doing other things in the summer? Stamkos seemed to enjoy himself with the Jays the other day – and no one can question his commitment to hockey.