Steven Stamkos ready for Lightning camp
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said he is ready for next week's opening of training camp and will have no restrictions.
Stamkos, 27, was encouraged after his summer of rehab, saying this is the best his surgically-repaired right knee has felt since his mid-November major procedure to repair a torn lateral meniscus.
When he's 100-percent, however, remains to be seen.
"When you've gone through the tough stretch I've been through in the last 4-5 years, it's tough to know what 100-percent is," Stamkos said upon joining the team's informal workouts in Brandon. "I don't think you'll know. It's the best it's felt since the surgery. Way better than where I ended the season. It's been getting better and better everyday. I haven't looked this forward to a training camp in a long time."
Stamkos was playing the best hockey of his career when he got hurt Nov. 15 in Detroit. He had nine goals and 11 assists in his first 17 games. The captain did his best to return by the end of the season as the Lightning was fighting for its playoff life, but realizes how he wasn't nearly ready.
"Knowing what I know now and how I feel now, I wasn't even close," Stamkos said. "I might have thought so at the time. It's funny how you go through the summer and the training and strengthening and skating, and how much better it gets. It's almost night and day to where it felt physically and mentally towards the end of last season. I know there's the competitive nature in anyone, you want to play, you want to help, the position we were in, so close. I wanted to get out there and forcing yourself to thinking your ready. When you're not putting pressure on yourself, you listen to your body, it's amazing how much better I've felt since then. I probably wasn't as close as I thought."
Stamkos thinks his meniscus was actually partially-torn before that awkward moment in Detroit. He maintains this was the toughest rehab he's been through, more challenging than even his broken leg four years ago, and the blood clot that sidelined him for most of the 2015-16 playoffs.
But Stamkos made some changes to his summer workouts in Toronto with Gary Roberts that he feels have paid off. They did some grappling and gymastics (somersaults and tumbling).
"Just have to put your body in a situation where it just reacts," Stamkos said. "We did some single-leg stability stuff to get that coordination back. When you're healthy, you just react out there. When you're injured, your body tries to protect that area."
Stamkos said he didn't even think about his knee during Tuesday's workout, which included a dozen teammates at the Ice Sports Forum. He looked like his old self in 4-on-4 drills. Stamkos knows his first big test will be contact in game situations, something he hasn't been through in a year.
But the former All-Star and Rocket Richard Trophy winner believes he can return to being one of the league's most impactful players.
"I mean, it takes time," Stamkos said. "Anytime you're out for as long as I was, it's going to take some time to get adjusted back to game speed. Nothing replicates a game until you get in that situation. Once you do that, then you'll know how your body feels. When you go through something like that you have to find a way to put yourself in position to feel good and still find a way to be the player you know you can be. My expectations are that I'm going to get back to that player. Hopefully it's right away. That's the plan. We'll see how it goes."
Stamkos said he liked the moves the Lightning made this summer, bringing in veterans Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi. Though Stamkos said at the end of the season he believed Jonathan Drouin was a big part of the team's core, he understood the trade that sent Drouin to Montreal for defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev. Stamkos got to skate with Sergachev for the first time today.
"It's tough, anytime you have a player of that skillset, it's tough to find," Stamkosm said of Drouin. "But you have faith in management and what they're doing. There's a lot of stuff that goes on in a trade of that magnitude that a lot of people don't know about. We were able to add a defenseman who probably is untradeable unless you throw a guy like (Drouin) out there.
"For us to pick him up is huge. We know we wanted to add some skill and defensive ability to the back end and he fits that bill for sure."
Stamkos noted with Drouin's big contract in Montreal (six year, $33 milllion), it might have been tough to fit everyone in under the cap. Stamkos likes the leadership and playoff experience that comes with Girardi and Kunitz, noting the Lightning is growing into a more veteran team.
"It's not just one move, it's chess pieces that all fit together to make your team," Stamkos said. "Obviously we've established our core now and can build around that. Last year, we put that behind us, if we stay healthy, we have as good a shot as any to make some noise this season...
"Last year was disappointing, we know that can't happen again, especially with the guys we have and guys we added. We realize what's at stake and that's to start off the year a hell of a lot better than we have in the past. And don't look back."