With the 2008 NHL Entry Draft fast approaching in June, it seems as though there is an undisputed No. 1 overall pick in place.
He is Steven Stamkos, center for the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting.
Not very big at 5'11" and 178 pounds, he plays a huge game. Blessed with great speed and overall skating ability, Stamkos doesn't shy away from the physical game despite his small stature, venturing into the corners when he needs to.
Stamkos also possesses a lethal wrist shot, which has helped him outscore OHL wonder prospect John Tavares, 58-40.
In comparing the prospects, many see Stamkos as the superior. While Tavares is viewed as being the more offensively gifted of the two, Stamkos has the more complete game and is a far better skater.
Stamkos has been likened to Quebec/Colorado star and future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic. Wrist shot aside, Stamkos earns the comparison with his complete game, back-checking well and asserting himself in the defensive end.
So what does his NHL future hold? Well, he will almost certainly go No. 1 overall to the Tampa Bay Lightning, joining elite offensive stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis.
I could see him taking over second line center duties behind Lecavalier, who will be sitting on the top line. But it wouldn't be unrealistic to think that he could spend time on the top line, to the left of Lecavalier and St. Louis.
Regardless, he won't have a spectacular rookie season for a few reasons.
Firstly, rookies don't generally have huge seasons, with a few exceptions. He may start strong but he will hit the wall eventually, as most rookies do.
Secondly, he will be seeing a good deal of defensive attention from opposing teams. There isn't much scoring after Lecavalier and St. Louis on the top line, so it will be a bit easier for teams to key in on Stamkos while he is on the ice. Whether or not he is able to thrive in these situations remains to be seen.
I would expect Stamkos to have a stellar career ahead of him. His offensive output should be consistent regardless of who he plays with just based on his skill set. If put with the right pair of wingers, he could be one of the league's best.
No matter what happens in his rookie year, the Bolts are getting a true blue-chipper in Stamkos, and another franchise-caliber player to go alongside Lecavalier.
The future just got a little brighter for a team with an otherwise cloudy forecast.