Q&A: Why Steven Stamkos loves fantasy sports, watching Nikita Kucherov and playing in Montreal

"It was so exciting, at the beginning of the year, to get a chance to play with him on the same line and see the chemistry we had," says center Steven Stamkos of pairing with winger Nikita Kucherov on the Lightning's top unit. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

BOSTON -- Ever since he tore a ligament in his right knee on Nov. 15, Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has been forced to answer questions about his health.

The past two seasons have been difficult for the 27-year-old forward, who has been sidelined since having surgery on Nov. 17 to repair a lateral meniscus tear. With the exception of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, he missed the entire 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs because of a blood clot near his collarbone.

Since Stamkos, who been practicing with the Lightning as he waits to be cleared for game action, has fielded countless questions about his injury, we decided to take a breather from that line of inquiry and focus instead on hockey and other fun stuff.

Stamkos talked about fantasy football, where he most likes to play besides Tampa Bay, creating chemistry with teammate Nikita Kucherov and why 30 is the new 40 in the NHL.

ESPN.com: We'll start with the most important question: How did you finish in your fantasy football league this winter?

Stamkos: I came in third and I was pissed about that. I had the best team by a mile, but it's all about matchups, man. I faced Drew Brees in the semifinals and he lit it up, so [teammate] Ryan Callahan got me. We've got fantasy baseball coming up, so I'm excited.

ESPN.com: Other than Amalie Arena in Tampa, what rink has the best atmosphere for hockey?

Stamkos: Montreal's [Bell Centre] is fun. I've had a chance to play there a couple of times in the playoffs and when it's really at its peak, the aura around the rink -- even when you come in for morning skate -- and throughout the city, it's so alive. The pregame show, the anthem ... it's a great atmosphere. The seats are right on top of you there. It's fun when you go in there as the visiting team and you can hear a pin drop when you're winning a playoff game. It's a pretty good feeling. I'd say that tops the list, for sure.

ESPN.com: The Lightning played their last game ever at Joe Louis Arena, which is closing after this season, last weekend. What was it like to play in that building during your career?

Stamkos: That's where I got hurt, so I'm pissed at The Joe right now. But again, I got to play there during the playoffs, and you really feel the excitement and the energy when you get to play in a historic rink like The Joe. The octopus is coming onto the ice, and you feel that energy.

I got a chance to go there during my draft year and watch the Stanley Cup there when it was Pittsburgh against Detroit, so I have a lot of great memories there. I have a lot of friends who usually come down when we play in Detroit, whether it's from Sarnia [his OHL team] or from Toronto [his hometown], so it's always a fun place to play.

There's history in that rink. With all the new technology, it might be a little outdated in that regard, but you can't really put a price on the aura that it has, what's been accomplished there and how cool it is to be out there on that ice.

ESPN.com: Your team has dealt with injuries to key players this season, but others have stepped up. How do you think Nikita Kucherov is playing?

Stamkos: He's been a one-man wrecking crew for us lately. With the injuries we've had and the guys who have gone down, he's been relied upon heavily and he's found a way. It seems like it's either him [scoring], or he's involved on the power play somehow. I know other guys want to step up and help out, but what Kooch has done has been pretty impressive. You sometimes forget how young he still is. For him to assume that go-to guy role and really flourish in it shows how good of a player he is.

It was so exciting, at the beginning of the year, to get a chance to play with him on the same line and see the chemistry we had. For him to continue that has been a lot of fun to watch. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting a chance to play with him again at some point.

ESPN.com: The league is changing and getting younger. When you look at the future of the NHL, what do you see?

Stamkos: Yeah, 30 is the new 40 in this league. I'm closing in on 30 here, so it's crazy to really think about it. I remember coming into the league as an 18-year-old kid, and we had a couple of 40-year-olds in Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi. And we had veterans in Chris Gratton and Jason Ward and Olaf Kolzig.

Now it's like you come into training camp and if you're over 25, you're one of the old guys. It's obviously great for the game because of how skilled and ready these young guys are when they come into the league. Physically, from a skill-set point of view, from a maturity level, each year these kids are more and more ready.

Then you throw in the fact that we're in a salary-cap world where teams need to really watch what they spend, so they bring in these younger guys for the first couple of years at a cheaper price and give them a chance. It's tougher for some of those older guys who are looking for jobs. It's a catch-22. You see these older guys and the great careers they've had. They still have a lot to offer, but these kids are so good and so ready right away that the league's gotten younger and younger every year since I've been around. I'm 27 now, and next year will be 10 years [since joining the league]. It's crazy how time flies. Now I'm one of the old guys on the team. You just never take it for granted. It's such an honor to play in this league, and like I said, 30 is the new 40 now. So you've just got to cherish it.