Am down here in Tampa to cover the Rangers and Lightning tilt at the St. Pete Times Forum, one that features two good up-and-coming Eastern Conference teams and the subplot of Henrik Lundqvist's return to the starting lineup after watching back-up Marty Biron backstop two straight wins over Minnesota and Calgary.
But really all anyone down here wishes to talk about is Steven Stamkos. And that makes perfect sense actually.
You see, Stamkos, the first overall pick in the 2008 draft and coming off a breakout 51-goal campaign in his second NHL season a year ago, has already scored 20 goals in the first 21 games this season. And even though it's a long way off, people are already talking non-stop about the chance of Stamkos scoring 50-in-50---fifty goals in fifty games, something ever only achieved by five Hall-of-Famers---Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull.
I have compiled a host of quotes about Stamkos and will share them with you below, but first just had to say what a pleasure it was this morning to, first, sit in on Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher's morning gathering with the media and then to sit and chat with Stamkos in the Lightning dressing room afterwards.
Boucher is as engaging and personable a head coach as there is in the entire National Hockey League. This was my first personal encounter with him, and I came away extremely impressed---and that's not even including his obvious coaching skills. You can see why Steve Yzerman wanted Boucher to be leading this team.
And the 20 year-old Stamkos is such a polite, respectful, thoughtful, intelligent, and mature person. It's almost hard to fathom that he is so young. He speaks so respectfully of his father and his upbringing, you just can tell that his parents raised him the right way. But even behind that silly mustache he has going on right now, you can see that Stamkos is still just a kid having an amazing time playing the game he loves.
Everyone that is around Stamkos on a regular basis says he is a totally down-to-earth joy. I can see what they mean.
Lightning Coach Guy Boucher
On Stamkos' love of the game: "He loves to play the game just to play the game. He does it for the right reasons. It has nothing to do with money, it's about the enjoyment of it all. I think he'll still be a kid, loving the game like a kid, when he's 30."
On the pressure of 50 in 50: "It's so early to talk about this, so much time before we reach 50 games. And do we say that he's no good if he has 49 in 50? And then we miss the joy of the other 49 goals he did score? He's very humble and unselfish and the 50/50 talk creates unnecessary pressure."
On being asked about 50-in-50 already: "It's just something that I've realized at a young age that is part of the game and comes with the territory. When you're not being asked the questions it probably means you're not playing that well. Obviously this year with the start I've had and the team has had I'm getting a lot more requests, but you have to be good to the media because hopefully then they'll be good to you."
On how he handles media scrutiny: "It's just basic respect. You respect what other people do and they'll respect you for what you do. Not only did I learn that from my parents, but my minor hockey coach was big about respecting your opponents, the refs, other players, the media. It's something I learned at a young age and it's pretty simple. My dad didn't have to raise his voice or yell too much. When I was a kid it was tell me once or maybe twice and that was it."
On loving his job: "I am just having fun. I am doing something I've done my whole life, and now it's my job. I love playing hockey, and am just lucky and fortunate enough to have a job like this where you play a game that you have loved so much since you were a kid. I am always going to have a smile on my face coming to the rink every day, working at being better, and trying to win every day. You don't take anything for granted because we are so lucky to be doing what we are doing as our job."
Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger
On Stamkos: "He plays with a lot of energy and he can do things that other players can't at a high speed with the puck. He's full speed when he's coming at you, with the puck or without the puck. He's really talented that way, and he's shifty. He's put himself into a category in this league where he is one of the top."
On containing Stamkos: "We have to play physical on him and that line, not give him time to go from one end to the other at full speed. He can't go untouched. He's got to be slowed up."
Rangers forward Ryan Callahan
On containing Stamkos: (laughing) "...or trying to at least! They key is for us to get the puck in deep and not let them turn us over in the neutral zone and counter back. When you have a guy like St. Louis with his speed and Stamkos, I think they prey on that, the turnovers in the neutral zone. So we have to get it in deep and then not let them build up speed through the neutral zone. And from a D standpoint, it's about taking away time and space. Get in his face and don't give him time to move the puck or shoot the puck."
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi
On challenge of facing Stamkos: (laughing) "I don't know that I look forward to facing him, but listen he's got 20 goals in 21 games, so you know he's a real deadly player out there and we have to make sure that somebody is always on him in the D zone. We have to be hard on him, make him work for his chances."
On trying to contain Stamkos: "He's one of the elite players in the league. If you can do a good job on him then you can feel good about yourself and the team. Obviously we are focused on shutting him down, but it's going to be hard and we're going to have to do a good job tonight."
Follow Me on Twitter: @jimcerny and @thenyrangers