From goal scorer extraordinaire to setup man aficionado, Steven Stamkos’ playing style has morphed drastically right before our eyes as he progresses into his later twenties. Although playmaking skill has been flashed before, we haven’t seen the Sarnia Sting alumni cross the 40-assist threshold since 2010-11. Having only once played a full 82-game campaign since 2011-12 (not counting the lockout), Stamkos’ unfortunate injury history has caused him to miss significant time in the world’s top league during his prime years. Enough time that he seemingly became the NHL’s forgotten superstar after 2016-17’s leg injury that cut short what was a fast start for the Markham native. That fading star led to his name falling somewhat in fantasy drafts leading into 2017-18 and boy did he repay those that kept the faith in selecting him.
So what’s brought forth the morph into a playmaker all of a sudden? Over and above all is the presence of superstar Nikita Kucherov who hit the 100-point plateau in 2017-18. Although for years Stamkos had Martin St. Louis, Kucherov is much more a triggerman to the playmaking style of the diminutive former player. Because of this, Stamkos need not be the one putting the rubber on net every time like in the earlier years of his career. The Lightning nowadays are far and away deeper than any team Stamkos had in the past with eight players scoring 15 or more goals (counting Vladislav Namestnikov). Bump it down to 10 or more goals and they have 11 who accomplished this, with one being JT Miller who scored 10 in only 19 games in Tampa Bay. It’s highly unlikely we ever see Stamkos cross 300 shots on goal in a season again because of the depth. That doesn’t mean he still cannot one day cross the 30-goal plateau again as he still possesses that howitzer of a one timer, which Kucherov loves feeding him all too often on the power play. Lower goal scoring can also be attributed to his overall shooting percentage (12.7), matching that of his rookie campaign a decade ago. All other campaigns, injury shortened or not, saw him at 15% or higher.
Beyond goals and assists, Stamkos was quietly a healthy source of penalty minutes with 72 on the season, the second-highest year total of his career. Tied for third overall across the league in power play goals (15), Stamkos as expected, played a large role on what is one of the more dangerous primary units spanning the league. If you count faceoffs won like one of my settings, he was of even more value winning 450-plus while seeing close to 19 minutes per game. Plain and simple, the 28-year old was one heck of a fourth-round pick for me in 2017-18. Do not expect him to fall that far in your coming draft(s).
As far as advanced statistics, nothing anyone should raise a red flag for in looking for regression. 11% shooting at 5v5 is in the wheelhouse for a phenomenal shooter like Stamkos and it’s nice to see him getting a healthy dose of offensive zone starts coming in at 61.5%. A healthy PTS/60 and CF% in line with years past, nothing says his 2017-18 production is not repeatable. If there is one thing you want to speculate on it would be his 1033 PDO which says he is getting lucky but as you can see, he has countless seasons with a PDO rate in this neighborhood, therefore making this information negligible.
For a large majority of the campaign, Stamkos was locked in at even strength on a line with Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov. For an extended period, this was arguably the most dominant line in the game, especially early on which saw him and Kucherov pacing the league in points scored. Namestnikov was a pure product of the other two as was apparent anytime he was ever taken off their line, and in the time after he was dealt to the New York Rangers, who are devoid of any forward in their stratosphere of talent. Coming back in the swap between New York and Tampa Bay was one of the Rangers better forwards, JT Miller. Miller was always a solid player in Manhattan but in coming to the Lightning and being placed in the cushy spot alongside Stamkos and Kucherov, he really seized the opportunity, scoring 10 goals and assisting on another eight in 19 regular season games. Going into next season, one can foresee this line being reunited once again and Miller is arguably an upgrade over the likes of Namestnikov.
All in all, there should be no surprise in seeing Stamkos re-establish himself as one of the game's most dangerous forwards. A trooper through and through, the Lightning are knocking on the door of title town with him still very much in his prime. Owners will covet the younger Kucherov at the top ends of drafts and although no argument there, be the wiser owner and sit back somewhat to snag what is in my opinion still the more dangerous forward. Though 60 goals may never come again, there is no complaining about the elite production he very much brings to the table whilst healthy.
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