On Wednesday’s CapsReport, a listener asked Mike Vogel to forecast the Caps’ forward line combinations for 2007-’08. That’s always a fun offseason exercise. As you might expect, there were no surprises among Vogel’s top 6. But when he got to the third line MV offered up some intrigue:
Matt Pettinger is an established talent in the big league. Boyd Gordon had what certainly appeared to be a breakout year in his professional career last season, admittedly in its infancy. But Dave Steckel? An L.A. Kings’ castoff two seasons ago, earning regular and important minutes on a playoff aspiring club?
Steckel earned a richly deserved callup by the Caps late last season after piling up career offensive numbers for the Hershey Bears, and in a game in Atlanta on April 4, sharing a sheet of ice with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, and Alexander Ovechkin, Steckel stood out as the best player on the ice in all three zones. This is what I wrote about his performance for OFB the following morning:
“The Dave Steckel I watched in Atlanta last night looked identical to the one I followed up in New Hampshire and Maine last month — a force in two ends of the rink, but with one key distinction: he occasionally left the ice in his Bears’ sweater for line changes. But last night for Coach Hanlon, I’m not sure I saw him leave the ice in the third period.
“It was only one game, but in the season within a season, the one where many guys are making statements to management about jobs for the autumn, Dave Steckel last night announced rather loudly that he’s likely to make a serious run at a roster spot with the parent club come training camp.”
Approximately six weeks later, I was seated in the Giant Center press box next to Joe Reekie during the Bears’ postseason run. Once again, Steckel was a standout on the sheet below. With Vogs to my right, it was a press row chock full of Steckel boosters, but Reekie’s reflections on the Bears’ leader really caught my attention: “He should have been a [Caps’] regular last season,” Reekie told me.
Steckel had a lot of folks in D.C. rubbing their eyes wondering if they’d read what they’d actually read in more than a few game accounts last season. He scored five shorthanded goals for the Bears in the regular season, including one against Albany on April 18 while killing a 5-on-3 River Rats power play.
Another thing Vogel may have had in mind Wednesday afternoon was Steckel’s being Boyd Gordon’s linemate during the Bears’ postseason march to the Calder Cup in 2006. They were two of Hershey’s best players then, utilized liberally by Bruce Boudreau in all game situations.
Beyond a real big pro physique and two straight seasons of significant development, Steckel will bring to Caps’ training camp in two weeks’ time a reputation for being one of the best thinkers of the game when he’s out on the ice. He is also fantastic on draws. Vogel may or may not have had that in mind yesterday in his line formations; if he’s right, when Boyd Gordon gets chased out of the faceoff circle this season, he could be replaced by his equal at draws. So two-thirds of the Caps’ third line would be renowned for its strategtic thinking, defensive awareness, faceoff acumen, and trustworthiness in every zone of the ice. And be joined by the significantly talented Pettinger.
In his third full season behind the Caps’ bench Glen Hanlon is going to have as many line combination options as he’s ever had. The most impressive may follow the big guns in the top 6 and join a rich legacy of two-way tormentors that play a huge role in leading the Caps back to league-wide respectability.