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Prospect Update: Sam Steel
By Thomas Harrington
After absolutely dominating the WHL in the 2016-2017 season, Sam Steel had another strong season in his final year of juniors, and he was also the captain of the Regina Pats.
After scoring 50 goals and 131 points, it was inevitable that Steel’s point totals would drop this past year. Still, he scored a solid 33 goals and 83 points in 54 games. Some might say that kind of drop-off is unacceptable, but it’s not as bad as it looks. Steel played in 12 fewer games than he did the year before, and still averaged over a point and a half per game. Regina had high expectations for the playoffs, but they lost in the first round in seven games. Steel did what he could, scoring one goal and 11 points, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. Steel finished his junior career with 123 goals and 338 points in 258 games, averaging well over a point-per-game in his entire junior career. In the playoffs, he scored 18 goals and 57 points in 44 games, scoring at a remarkably similar pace to that of the regular season, an impressive feat by itself, and made even more impressive by the high point totals.
Steel also suited up for Team Canada at the World Juniors, helping lead them back to gold. In seven games, he scored four goals and nine points. He was second on Canada in both goals and points and finished fifth overall in the tournament in scoring. He centered one of Canada’s top lines and was one of their most dangerous players throughout the tournament.
Despite a disappointing finish to the WHL playoffs, Regina was host to the Memorial Cup and received an automatic entry as a result. This tournament was Steel’s last as a junior hockey player, and he saved his best for last. Through the first four games of the tournament, no one could touch Steel, as he scored two goals and 13 points. It was a performance that was as good as any from previous Memorial Cup Tournaments. In one game, he recorded five assists, tying a Memorial Cup record. However, in the championship game, the Pats ran into the surprise Acadie-Bathurst Titan and fellow Anaheim prospect Antoine Morand. The Titan played a tight defensive game and were able to shut down the high flying Regina offense, skating off with the 3-0 victory. However, luck certainly played a factor, as the Pats hit a number of posts throughout the contest. Still, it was a great defensive effort by the Titan to capture the championship. Despite being shutout in the final game of the tournament, Steel was still named the tournament MVP, as he led all players in scoring. Only one other player in the tournament had 10 points, while everyone else had seven or fewer. Steel finished the tournament three points and two assists short of the all-time records at the Memorial Cup.
A year ago, I knew that Steel wouldn’t match his gaudy point totals of 2016-2017. I expected it and made my expectations for this past season accordingly. First, I wanted him to improve his defensive play, which he did. Second, I wanted him to lead the Pats to the WHL Championship. While that didn’t happen, he did what he could in that first round, and his amazing Memorial Cup Tournament makes up for that. Finally, I wanted him to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Well, he did that and was one of their best players, so safe to say that Steel met the expectations that I set for him a year ago.
I have two different sets of expectations for Steel this season. Like many of Anaheim’s other prospects, I think it likely that he’ll play in both Anaheim and San Diego this coming season. However, I think that he’s good enough to play in more games with the Ducks than the Gulls this season. When he’s in Anaheim, he doesn’t need to score a ton of points, but after the last couple of seasons in juniors, he does need to show that his offensive abilities will transfer over to the NHL. When he’s in San Diego, he needs to be one of their better centers. Steel was drafted and developed to score at a high level in the professional leagues, and he needs to start showing what he can do this season.
This coming season will be Steel’s first pro season. Right now, I think that his skill level is good enough to play in the NHL. The bigger question mark is his physical play. If he gets pushed around by larger NHL players, he’ll likely need some time in the AHL, but, if he can use his speed and smarts to beat NHL competition, then he’ll find himself a home in Anaheim. Ryan Kesler’s health could have an impact on how much ice time Steel gets with the Ducks, but I don’t think that will impact whether or not he is in Anaheim. If Steel is playing well enough, I believe that he’ll be with the Ducks. And if he struggles, then he’ll get some time with the Gulls, and will hopefully return shortly after that. Don’t be surprised if he starts the season in San Diego to give him a taste of what professional hockey is like, with the intention of bringing him to Anaheim soon after.
Steel’s three-year entry-level contract will begin this year and he’ll be a restricted free agent when it reaches its completion. It’s hard to predict how the next three years will go for Steel and Anaheim, but I’m confident that the Ducks will re-sign him when the time comes. Of all of Anaheim’s current prospects, especially those with three years left on their entry-level deals, I believe that Steel is the most likely to sign a one-way deal, and the most likely to maybe even get a long-term deal. Still, it’s a long way to go, and we’ll see how he develops this season and beyond.
With the prospect updates now over, next up will be the strengths and weakness of Anaheim’s farm system.
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September 6th, 2018