Steckel fitting in well after first practice
Centered line with David Clarkson and Vladimir Zharkov
|Steckel will make his Devils debut Wednesday against Tampa Bay. GETTY IMAGES|
On Tuesday, the newest Devil took to the ice for his first practice in New Jersey. The deadline day deal that brought him from Washington also yielded a second-round pick in 2012.
“I knew we were probably going to make a play for Arnott, but when the call came at 3:20, I didn’t think it was going to be me that was on the other end of that,” Steckel said.
At practice, he centered the fourth line with David Clarkson and Vladimir Zharkov. That trio figures to have significant responsibility on both penalty kills and key draws.
“I like to get it deep, cycle, outwork other teams and get it to the net,” Steckel said of his playing style. “I think the linemates I had today, we’re going to be pretty successful at doing that.”
Above all, Steckel is superb on faceoffs. The 6-5 centerman leads the League with a 63.7 percent success rate and has never finished worse than seventh in his four full seasons.
What’s the secret to that level of consistency?
“Not letting the other guy beat you, basically,” he said. “The bottom line is, it’s pretty much a battle. I know it’s a coin flip either way. Most people look at it as a pretty overrated stat, maybe. But to most teams, to have a guy they can count on to win a draw at the end of the game or in a key situation, I’d say any coach would be pretty happy with that. There is no secret. It’s just out-battling the other guy, and that’s it.”
“That is great,” Lemaire said. “Definitely, he’s a guy that kills penalties. We’ve been using our top four forwards there in a way, which they’re getting a lot of ice time, so now, hopefully with this guy, we can get two more guys to kill it.”
He liked what he saw in Steckel’s game.
“He understands the game well,” said the coach. “Looks like in his own zone, he’ll be able to do a good job defensively. He’s got a good shot, gets it on net, and he’s strong on the puck.”
The transition to a new team isn’t often seamless. But the offensively loaded Capitals had been working recently on tightening up their defensive game, which could fast-track Steckel’s adjustment period.
It also helps that he thinks defense first.
“There’s not too many teams that do anything unique in this League,” Steckel said. “But at the same time [it] fits my game specifically, I’m more of a defensive player. Err on the side of caution, and we’ll keep it that way for a couple of games until I get adjusted to it.”
Rod Pelley, Steckel’s teammate for two seasons at Ohio State, was excited to welcome a familiar face to New Jersey.
They played together on the Buckeyes squad that won the CCHA Tournament in 2004. Steckel was named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team in 2000-01.
“Throughout his college days, he was a very skilled player, scored a lot of goals,” Pelley said. “That’s definitely a side of the game that he can do, too. I’d say overall he’d be a solid two-way guy that can play important minutes for your hockey team.”
Pelley spoke to President/CEO/GM Lou Lamoriello shortly after the deal was finalized and expects Steckel to be a “great fit” with the Devils.
“I’m sure me just being here and knowing Dave quite well, it’ll make the transition just a little bit easier,” he said. “The little things like rides or directions here and there, or dinner – whatever it may be. It’s definitely easier when you know someone. He’s a pretty sociable guy so I’m not too concerned about him fitting in.”
Steckel has gone from a team preparing for a deep playoff run to one hoping its current run will get them into the playoffs. That suits the Wisconsin native just fine.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting, actually, for me. I can’t say enough about what I’ve heard from this organization and about this organization, so I’m really excited to be here.”
Not that long ago, a coaching change sparked a surprise turnaround in Washington. In 2007-08, after winning just six of their first 20 games under Glen Hanlon, the Capitals turned to Bruce Boudreau, who won 37 games to capture the Southeast Division title.
It earned Boudreau the Jack Adams Award as top coach, an honor that some say Lemaire should receive for leading New Jersey back into the playoff picture. The Devils have won 17 of their last 21 and sit nine points behind Carolina for the final postseason spot in the East with 20 games to go.
For the Capitals, that surprise playoff appearance in 2008 provided a springboard to future success.
“I’ve been in that position before three years ago with Washington, when we were in the exact same position: last place throughout most of the year,” Steckel said. “We made a run towards the end and made the playoffs, and it kind of catapulted the organization for a couple years.”
When he makes his Devils debut Wednesday against Tampa Bay, he'll be hoping they can take another step toward their own improbable postseason quest.