A year ago, some wondered if he was ready for the NHL. One of his former owners was so convinced he was a bust that he had a handshake deal to trade him away. Now, he sits on top of the NHL, tied with Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby for the most goals in the 2009-10 season at 51.
He is Steven Stamkos and now he is the winner of the 2009-10 Maurice "Rocket" Richard trophy (shared with Crosby), given to the league's top goal scorer(s).
Since the All-Star break last season, no one has scored more goals than Stamkos. Not Ovechkin. Not Sid the Kid. No one.
He's also the third youngest player in NHL history to hit the 50-goal plateau at 20 years, two months, and three days (Wayne Gretzky and Jimmy Carson were the only players younger). He's the second youngest to win the Richard award (Rick Nash remains the youngest, at 19 years of age).
"It's pretty surreal," Stamkos told the Associated Press. "To do it my second year in the league and to share it with players like Crosby is pretty special and with a guy like Ovechkin in the mix is pretty special because he's such a dominant scorer."
So is the young man simply known as "Stammer the Hammer" to his teammates. It's been "Hammer Time" on the powerplay for the Lightning's budding superstar as Stamkos led the league with 24 power play goals.
With not much to play for in the final days, his teammates wanted to make sure he had at least the trophy to look back on his second year in the league.
When the opportunity came for an empty net goal at the end of the Lightning's season finale against the hated Florida Panthers, they couldn't resist giving him a chance.
"The whole bench was up," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet told the AP. "It looked like he was shot out of a cannon [on the play]. He was just flying. There's so many names on that trophy. It's pretty impressive."
"That's probably the fastest I've skated all year," Stamkos added.
Pittsburgh's Crosby scored two goals in his season finale to tie Stamkos, just missing a third late in the third period of the Penguins' 6-5 overtime victory over the Islanders.
Stamkos became the second player in Lightning history to score 50 in a season and fell one shy of tying Vincent Lecavalier's club record of 52 goals.
Stammer's hockey team seemed to pull together late as well.
After falling out of the playoff race and playing pretty pitifully down the stretch for head coach Rick Tocchet, the Bolts won their last three games of the season, including a win over the fifth seed Ottawa Senators, to finish with 80 points on the season, the most since 2006-07.
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