Wednesday, July 26, 2017
STEEL HOPING TO CRACK DUCKS LINEUP
Sam Steel made that jump for the Anaheim Ducks last season, and the 19-year-old center said he's a better player because of the opportunity.
Prior to being called up by the Ducks before Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Nashville Predators, Steel scored a league-leading 131 points (50 goals, 81 assists) for Regina in 2016-17, earned WHL player of the year honors, and helped Regina advance to the league finals.
Steel watched the Ducks lose Game 5 at Honda Center, and then accompanied them to Nashville, where they lost again in Game 6 to end their postseason run.
Although his NHL stay was brief, Steel said he absorbed plenty.
"It was an awesome experience just to be around the guys in that type of atmosphere, see what it's all about," Steel said during Anaheim's four-day development camp in early July. "They brought me up to experience that, and now it's just my turn to put in the work so one day I can be a part of it."
The experience demonstrated the wide gap in talent and maturity between junior hockey and the League. It also bolstered Steel's appetite for more.
"It was obviously great hockey, and it was fast, physical, but just being up there made me a little bit more hungry to experience it, wanting to get to that point," Steel said.
Steel will get another opportunity to show Anaheim what he can bring to the organization when training camp opens in September. He has been proving himself ever since he picked up a hockey stick but has taken his tenacity to another level since falling to No. 30 in the 2016 NHL Draft.
Steel was picked second by Regina in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft. Early in the 2015-16 WHL season, he was ranked as high as ninth on The Hockey News' prospect list. He finished that season with 70 points (23 goals, 47 assists), but most of the NHL passed on Steel before Anaheim selected him with its second pick of the first round.
Steel spent that summer working on his speed and strength, then led the WHL in scoring and helped Regina come within two wins of the league championship.
"I thought I had a good summer preparing for (last) season, coming to Anaheim and experiencing the whole NHL atmosphere, pushing me to get to the next level," he said.
Regina coach and general manager John Paddock said the NHL teams that passed on Steel may soon regret it.
"I say this sort of half-jokingly, but not necessarily: They should have just listened when they asked last year," Paddock told the Regina Leader Post in late March. "The kind of year he had, 131 points, is surprising because that's a lot for anybody, but they should have listened when I said that he would have had 85 points (last season) if we'd had (right wing) Cole Sanford all year. This is somebody who should have gone in the 15 to 20 range. They didn't listen."
Steel was also one of the final cuts by Canada for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship, but that disappointment simply added to his motivation this offseason.
"You need to progressively get better," he said. "So, I'm going to try and do what I did last season in the offseason, even get a little bit more stronger and faster and try to develop more."