By the end of the 2013-14 season, Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos will build a strong enough case to be considered as the world's most complete scorer.
Despite playing on some awful teams since his rookie season in 2008-09, the former No. 1 overall pick has become one of the league's most electrifying and productive players. Here are a few notable stats:
- He's second among active players with a 0.51 goals/game average.
- He's the only player to finish in the top five of goals and points in each of the last four years.
- Since the start of 2009-10, his 185 goals lead the NHL.
- His 22 game-winning goals since start of 2010-11 are tied for the most with Corey Perry.
- His 18.5 shot percentage led all players who took 135 or more shots in 2013.
Will Stamkos be one of the NHL's two best players next year?
It's quite impressive that Stamkos was able to become the second player since 1996 to score 60 goals during the last non-lockout season, especially given his lack of quality teammates. Playing with Martin St. Louis helps, but if you compare the talent around Crosby to what Stamkos works with, Pittsburgh's captain is in a better situation.
That may change a bit next season, as No. 3 overall draft pick Jonathan Drouin is expected to make the team and possibly play on the top line with Stamkos and St. Louis.
"One day I hope I get to play alongside Stamkos. He is a great player and I have loved watching him play.” -Jonathan Drouin— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) June 30, 2013
With Drouin and St. Louis on his wings, we can expect Stamkos to tally 100 points for the first time in his career next season.
It's hard to envision his goal total being less than 50 because his average in the last three non-lockout years is 52. But the one stat total that Stamkos should see a dramatic increase in next year is his assists.
The 23-year-old center's goal-scoring skills and incredible shot dominate highlight reels, and rightly so, but his playmaking skills are underrated.
His vision, hockey IQ and passing abilities are all impressive. His career high in assists is 46 (2010-11), and he could easily tally 50 helpers in 2013-14 with two quality goal scorers alongside him in St. Louis and Drouin.
If his durability remains strong (zero games missed in four straight years), Stamkos should put up 108 points (55 goals, 53 assists) in 82 games next season to win his third Rocket Richard Trophy and become a Hart Trophy finalist.
But the rise of Stamkos to the level of being included in the conversation of the top two or top three players in the world won't conclude until his defensive performance reaches another level. As the chart below shows, his defense took a positive step in 2013, most notably on faceoffs.
|*Based on 82GP
The next step for Stamkos in his development is becoming a top-tier defensive forward, one that head coach Jon Cooper will want to put on the ice against the opponents' top scorers.
It would be unfair to expect Stamkos to be a Selke Trophy candidate next season, but he does have the potential to be a better two-way player than Crosby in the near future.
As someone who's dedicated to offseason workouts and takes nutrition seriously, there's no question that Stamkos' ascent among the NHL's best will continue next year because of his incredible work ethic.
It's rare that a 23-year-old superstar with his type of talent has the work ethic of a veteran still trying to stay in the league, but this is what separates Stamkos from a lot of the young and established stars.
By the end of the 2013-14 season, expect the gap between Crosby and Stamkos to be significantly shortened. It's only a matter of time before the Lightning forward is the most complete offensive player in the NHL.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.