In his short hockey career, former first-round pick Steve Downie made a name for himself for the wrong reasons.
This season, however, Downie has quieted down his game and is making noise for a much more positive reason.
A former No. 29 overall pick by Philadelphia, Downie - in his second season with Tampa Bay after being acquired from the Flyers in November 2008 - is starting to show the combination of offensive capabilities and feisty play that made him a first-round pick. Downie is not afraid to get to the front of the net, knows how to dig pucks off the wall and excels at protecting the puck behind the net once he gets his stick on it.
"Downs is another one of our young guys; his potential, his curve is high and he's just getting better," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "He's one of our best corner men, along with Ryan Malone, and he comes up with loose pucks."
With nine goals on the season, Downie already has equaled his career total entering this year and with 21 points already has more than doubled his career point total. Downie's five power-play goals are third on the team.
Those numbers stand out much better than the two and 20 - as in two separate suspensions of 20 games in three years - which have dogged Downie since he was rookie. The first suspension came for a hit delivered on Ottawa's Dean McAmmond during a 2007 preseason game in which Downie, then with Philadelphia, left his feet to deliver a crushing blow that resulted in McAmmond - now with New Jersey - having to be taken off the ice on a stretcher.
At the end of last season, Downie was handed a 20-game suspension while with Norfolk of the American Hockey League when it was ruled he deliberately struck a linesman with a slash to the ankle at the end of a Feb. 28 game in Hershey.
Though it hasn't been a year since his latest suspension, Downie has harnessed his emotions to the point they are not getting him in trouble this season. Though he ranks 10th in the league in penalty minutes with 92, the 22-year-old has not crossed the line while maintaining the edge he needs to play with to be effective. During confrontations, he has skated away more often than not, and when he's whistled for an infraction, he skates to the penalty box instead of trying to plead his case to the officials.
It's something Tocchet had a conversation with Downie about before the season started.
"Quite frankly I don't think he has the best reputation with some of the refs and I told him he has to err on the side of caution," Tocchet said. "His mulligans are over, and for the most part he has done a really nice job."
As Tampa Bay looks to end a 12-game winless streak against Southeast Division-leading Washington tonight, Downie comes in looking comfortable in a top-six role, mainly playing right wing on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and Alex Tanguay.
"It's a learning process from when I first came into the league, now to where I need to be and what I need to do," Downie said. "I set a goal for myself and I set expectations for myself and I've come a long way from a year ago, my game has developed and I've learned so much in the last year and a half since I came here. I'm pretty happy with where my game is, but I still think I have a lot more."