Saturday, May 23, 2009

The 2008-2009 season, by the "tens" -- Centers: David Steckel

David Steckel

Theme: “blooming late”

Here we have our preseason projection and the actual season numbers for David Steckel...

There was an odd consistency in David Steckel’s game this year that isn’t entirely reflected in his season by the tens…

If you look at his scoring by month, he averaged three points a month (not including April), not scoring fewer than two or more than four in any month. He went 6-8-14 in 59 games against team in the East and 2-3-5 in 17 games against the West (approximately the same scoring rate over comparable numbers of games). He was 4-6-10 in 39 games at home, 4-5-9 in 37 games on the road. Only three times in 76 games was he on the minus side of the ledger in consecutive games, and never more than two games in a row. And, only five times in a total of 76 games did he go consecutive games losing more faceoffs than he won (three games was his longest streak), only once after December.

And if another thing remained constant, it was his ability to score against Tampa Bay. In 2007-2008, Steckel was 4-2-6 in six games against the Lightning. This year, he was 2-3-5 in six games, making him 6-5-11 in 12 games against Tampa Bay the last two years, while going 7-13-20 in 131 games against everyone else the past two seasons.

And looking at other numbers from his ten-game segments, he looks just as consistent… six of eight with at least ten shots on goal (but more than 20 only once)… only once in eight instances with more than ten penalty minutes… six times with at least ten hits (never more than 20).

What he wasn’t, though, was especially effective on weekends. His Friday-Sunday production ended 2-4-6, -6 in 36 games. Compare that to 6-7-13, +8 in 40 games on weekdays.

Steckel could become the sort of third line center the Caps need. He shows promise of becoming an anchor in the middle among the lower half of the forward lines – consistent, able to win faceoffs consistently, defense-minded (fewest goals scored against per 60 minutes among centers), effective in penalty killing, and he has an ability to chip in some scoring (he scored goals more frequently per 60 minutes of ice time at even strength than Nicklas Backstrom).

But he’s not there yet, not when you consider that this is a team that finished 19th in goals allowed per game and tied for 17th in penalty killing, even though Steckel was by far the least likely (among Caps center playing at least 60 games) to be scored on at even strength and was most likely to be the center on the bench when opponents scored in those situations.

At the age of 27, Steckel is blooming perhaps a bit later than one might have expected for a former first-round draft pick (30th overall in 2001), but by the same token, what is past might be prelude. For example, under coach Bruce Boudreau at Hershey in the AHL, Steckel showed an ability to score shorthanded goals. He had five such goals in his last regular season campaign with the Bears and another three in the Calder Cup playoffs in that 2006-2007 season. This year, he scored his first two shorthanded goals in the NHL. He had 30 goals in his last year with the Bears, following up on a 14-goal season he had in 2005-2006. This past year, his goal output increased from five to eight, and he had another three in 14 playoff games, including a game-winner against Pittsburgh.

Steckel has fewer than two full years of NHL game experience (155 games). This was only his second full season with the Caps, and in just about every statistical category you’d care to name, he improved on his first full season. He did show an ability to score at the AHL level, and one might hope that he continues improvement along those lines next year (he is signed through next year at a $725,000 salary). He’s been consistent, but perhaps needs to raise the production level at which he is consistent for the Caps to make the next step. For this year, though, he took a step forward one would expect for an inexperienced, if late-blooming, forward…

Grade: B

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