The look at the centers for this year ends with…
Theme: “all the world’s a stage”
Once upon a time, David Steckel was a first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings – selected 30th overall in 2001, ahead of fellow Kings’ draft picks Mike Cammalleri (49th) and a young goalie from St. Martin d’Heres, France, named Cristobal Huet (214th). At the time, he was the 16th-rated North American prospect according to Central Scouting and was described by Kings general manager Dave Taylor as having “good size, excellent hockey sense, and a great work ethic…we view him as a power forward.”
The path to “power forward” took a bit of a detour. After completing two more years at Ohio State, he turned pro and joined the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL, where he was 10-7-17 in 63 games. It was not, apparently, good enough to be re-signed by the Kings, and Steckel signed as a free agent with the Capitals in 2005. Playing mostly in Hershey in his first two years, Steckel posted good (95 points in 145 games) if not spectacular numbers for a two-time Calder Cup finalist team (winning the championship in 2006). This year, after re-signing with the Caps as a restricted free agent, he would stick with the parent club as a defensive specialist getting third and fourth line duty.
As one might expect from a player playing the role of third line defensive specialist, the ten-game splits for Steckel are rather unspectacular.
* seven games
But here, too, there is the effect of a new coach, one for whom Steckel played while in Hershey. Again, the change wasn’t spectacular, but was noticeable, even though his time on ice remained at about 13-and-a-half minutes a game. For example, from barely shooting the puck in the first 20 games (ten shots total), he was getting more opportunities in the offensive end after the coaching change. His scoring reflected the increased attention – from 1-0-1 in his first 20 games to 4-7-11 in his last 47.
The odd thing about his scoring, though, was his performance against Tampa Bay. If he had results like 4-2-6, +4, in six games against the rest of the league…
Where Steckel shined was in the game’s most fundamental task – faceoffs. He led all rookies (among those taking at least 500 draws) in faceoff winning percentage (56.3 percent). He was also trusted to perform the task. He was third among all rookies (again, those taking at least 500 draws) in percentage of team faceoffs taken (23.3 percent). He was 50 percent or better on draws in 46 of the 67 games in which he played.
Steckel played the role of a specialist. It is perhaps one far removed from that which might have been envisioned for him when he was drafted. But he played that role very well, and there is evidence in his minor league career that there is more of a scorer there than met the eye this year (he had 30 goals in 71 games at Hershey in 2006-2007). On a team that emphasized the attack after the coaching change, Steckel was a defense and penalty killing oriented player. He played those roles very well. For that, we’d give a grade of…