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Rising superstar Stamkos is coming on strong, more notes

Obvious talent and a skill set that only a handful of people are blessed to possess have turned Steven Stamkos into one of the best pure scorers in the NHL. But it's not without hard work and dedication.

In two summers, the Tampa Bay Lightning's 20-year-old center has become the poster child for the Gary Roberts gym of dreams. Roberts, the former NHL veteran who finished his playing career with Tampa Bay during Stamkos's rookie season, extended an invitation to work out with him in the offseason of 2009. Stamkos, coming off an up-and-down 46-point campaign, decided to follow the old guy's advice.

"It was a little intimidating at first coming in, but I think it was more intimidating playing with him," Stamkos says of Roberts. "Until you get to know him, you hear the stories of how hard he works, the protein shakes, the nutrition..."

Roberts took Stamkos and designed a workout program that could help the teenager develop more core and lower body strength to help his speed and stability on the ice. Six days a week, they worked out of the gym in Roberts' home and ate catered organic meals.

"Not the best tasting food," Stamkos says. "But then the adjustment takes place in your body, and you can feel how healthy you're eating."

The results were astounding. A breakout sophomore season for Stamkos, in which he led the NHL in goals (51) and finished with a team-high 95 points went a long way toward proving just what the fuss was about when the Lightning made him the first overall pick in 2008. It was certainly enough to make Stamkos go back to working with Roberts.

The legend of the Gary Roberts workout spread, and the 44-year old was soon fielding calls from all over to help in offseason training. Last summer, he took on 16 other trainees, including Dallas Stars center James Neal, New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, Florida Panthers forward Stephen Weiss and Stamkos's linemate Steve Downie. Roberts, meanwhile, accepted a job as a player development consultant with the Stars. It's likely the demand for Roberts, who earned the nickname Scary Gary for his intensity on the ice, will only increase.

"I think he's going to have to expand next summer," Stamkos says. "He's gonna have to get a gym. Or buy a bigger house."

This week's Sports Illustrated included a special report on concussions, although it mainly deals with the NFL. But this has been a long-simmering issue on the ice as well. With a new rule this season banning blindside checks to the head, the big question is whether it is working to curb such incidents.

Through the first month of the season, there have been 10 reported concussions in the NHL and 15 related injuries (post-concussion syndrome or reported concussion-like symptoms). Over the last five years, the NHL has averaged 75 concussions per season, and though it is still too early to tell for sure, the early indication seems to suggest the number is not going down.

Off to their worst start in 27 years, the New Jersey Devils are reeling. Perhaps the most ironic part of the problem is just how difficult they are finding it to score.

With the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk to join a formidable forward group that includes Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, the Devils looked like they would be one of the league's offensive powerhouses. But goals have been sparse and their power play downright atrocious while converting only two of 32 opportunities (just 6.3 percent).

Against the Sharks on Wednesday, the contrast in power play units was stark. Watching San Jose's crisp tape-to-tape passing, puck movement and strong presence around Devils goalie Martin Brodeur showed what New Jersey should look like. Instead, the Devils had trouble entering the Sharks' zone, displayed some inexact passing and couldn't manage to win the battles for loose pucks.

There are plenty of areas where the Devils need to tighten up their game -- defensively for sure -- but righting their sputtering power play should be a high priority for a team that is supposedly so offensively deep.

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