by Mike Chen on 09/24/08 at 01:00 PM ET
I’m not sure what Tampa Bay puppetmasters Oren Koules and Len Barrie are thinking with their pushing of young Steven Stamkos (and I’m pretty sure this was their decision) but I wonder if it’s really worth it to put so much pressure on young Stamkos’s shoulders. Didn’t they learn anything when “Crazy” Art Williams dubbed his #1 pick the “Michael Jordan of hockey”? Pressure and expectation can crush a young player, as well as distort their perspectives on professionalism and ego.
Later this week, I’ll be posting an email Q&A with Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky for an upcoming FoxSports.com column. One of my questions involved Kyle Turris and how Gretzky wanted to see his development. His response? “For all of our young players - Kyle included - we will just try to not put too much pressure on them too soon. The game is hard enough to play without pressure, and we will simply try to bring them along at their own pace.” Seems like pretty sound advice to me. Doesn’t quite sound like the same model Tampa Bay is using, does it?
Stamkos has already been the subject of his own viral marketing campaign (the infamous seenstamkos.com that now leads to the official Lightning website), and a quick look at the Lightning’s marketing material shows Stamkos prominently displayed despite the fact that he hasn’t officially earned a roster spot. On the official site, exhibition recaps tout Stamkos more than anything else.
So far—and I say that tongue in cheek as we’re only two games into the exhibition season—Stamkos has handled himself well on the ice: a goal, a shootout goal, and one bad turnover. He’s also skating in a proverbial bubble, as any time a player took a liberty with him, players like Ryan Malone acted like the school tough guy defending the braniac who does his homework.
I’m pretty certain that Stamkos will have a fine rookie campaign with probably 60-70 points but I’ve always been against putting a guy front and center, even when he hasn’t proven anything. This sets up inflated market expectations, especially with casual fans who only hear the hype without reading the substance. Sure, it works out great when someone’s as successful as Sidney Crosby but what happens when they crash and burn like Alexander Daigle? Not only do the fans reject the player in as a secondary scorer—or worse, a checker—the organization (scouts, GM, coaches) leaves a sour taste in the public’s mouth.
There’s never a need to do something like this other than to sell tickets. Koules and the nut jobs running the Lightning can market the hell out of a player who’s never played a real NHL game all they want, but for my money I’ll stick with the Great One’s opinion on this.
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