Steven Stamkos can hardly wait to get started for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, already penciled in as the team's second-line center, signed a three-year, $2.625 million contract that could be worth up to $11.175 million with incentives.
Stamkos relishes the opportunity to give the Lightning an immediate return on its investment, although the 18-year-old player realizes nothing _ even a roster spot _ will be handed to him in training camp.
"I think sticking in the NHL is obviously the biggest goal of mine right now. It's one thing to go to training camp and get a sniff at the NHL, but it's one thing to stay for the full season," Stamkos said during a conference call from Victoria, British Columbia, where the Lightning are holding a prospect camp.
"That's my expectation, my goal right now," Stamkos said. "Obviously, if I'm able to do that, I'm definitely going to have expectations that I put on myself to produce. I'm known as an offensive player, and I definitely want to put up some reasonable numbers."
The standard entry-level contract includes a yearly base salary of $875,000, as well as a maximum of $8.55 million in performance bonuses.
The Lightning won an NHL-low 31 games last season, and the addition of Stamkos is part of a massive overhaul of the roster since new owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie took control of the team in June.
Mark Recchi, Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Olaf Kolzig, Adam Hall, Wyatt Smith, Gary Roberts and Vinny Prospal are among the veterans brought in this summer, a group Stamkos expects to learn from as a rookie.
The Lightning also hired Barry Melrose as coach.
"I think he expects me to play a pretty big role," Stamkos said. "Obviously, I've got to prove I can play at the level first. But based on my playing in juniors, and the way I have developed over the past few seasons, he thinks I'm ready and I think I'm ready."
Stamkos had 100 goals and 97 assists in 124 games over two seasons for Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League.
He is the third player the Lightning have drafted No. 1 overall, joining Roman Hamrlik in 1992 and Vincent Lecavalier in 1998.
"It is obvious to all of our staff in a brief period of time that Steven is a very special young man with great potential. His work ethic and eagerness to learn have been very impressive," said Brian Lawton, the Lightning's vice president of hockey operations.
Stamkos reiterated that he is not fazed by high expectations that come with being the first pick in the draft. He knows comparisons to others selected first overall, including Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane, are inevitable.
"I think that's the kind of mentality you have to have coming in _ just work as hard as you can, compete as hard as you can and whatever happens happens," Stamkos said. "Usually if you're willing to do anything for the team, and anything to make yourself a better player, the result usually is going to be a positive one."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.