Straightening out the middle.

So, barring a Gilooly of the man with the multiyear contract with the NMC (or a chance for him to wake up and think it was 2007 again), I'd like to ask a couple of questions out there.

Who's the man who has the 3rd best faceoff win % on the team?

Who's the man who has a better 5v5 goals per 60 than Nicklas Backstrom despite playing with the 4th worst teammate quality on the team?

David Steckel, that's who.

Now, before you think I'm making the implication that Steckel should displace a guy who's tied for 4th in the league in assists and another guy who might be the best Russian to play the game (for now, anyway), that's not what I'm saying at all. I am saying that considering

  • The depth at the center position 
  • The long term plans of the club
  • What the salary cap might bring in the future,

Steckel should not only be a viable choice as a 3rd line center, but also one who could take a shift or two on the power play that lasts longer than 5 seconds. He can be more than a pretty face who eats up PK time. Looking at what he's done in almost two years:

When you consider than his linemates on 5v5 last year were Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing for a majority of that time (almost 4 to 1 compared to the next line he was on), the fact that his goals/60 was better than Sergei Fedorov (.47 to .37) is kind of surprising. But then, when you spend more of your ice time with guys whose hands are better suited for punching instead of shooting, you get stigmatized I guess.

This proves the case when you comparing last year's TOI to this year's. While there have been some justifiable increases (Brooks Laich and Alex Semin) and decreases (cough, Nylander, cough cough) throughout the team, Stecks' TOI has gone up a whopping 29 seconds, from 13:33 to 14:02 (granted, most of this has been shown on 5v5, from 9:38/game to 10:05).

Remember when everyone loved Laing last year for getting in front of the puck and blocking shots, and Laich got similar love this year? Steckel quietly had the 5th most blocked shots among forwards last year and blocked .63 shots per game. This year? He's second, one fewer total than Laich (despite playing 6 fewer games) while slightly upping his rate to .64 blocks a game. Laich is a guy who could get in front of goalies on a man advantage and doesn't have a problem with getting hit by the puck, why not Stecks?

With all of this, I figured Stecks should be put to the test. The March 16 issue of the Hockey News lists Stecks as the 3rd center on the depth chart, and we know that before tonight's Nashville game, he's got the following numbers:

61 GP 7 G 10A +3, 14:02 mins/G, 10:05 mins/G even strength, :05 mins/G power play, 1.5 points per even strength 60

Comparing him to other #3 centers in similar positions, here are a couple of players who outproduce him now (Note the amount of even strength ice time each sees):

Tyler Arnason (COL) 62 GP 5G 17A -13, 13:31 mins/G, 12:38 mins/G ES, :51mins/G PP, 1.46 points per ES 60

Martin Hanzal (PHO) 62 GP 9G 17A -6, 16:44 mins/G, 13:03 mins/G ES, :54 mins/G PP, 1.31 points per ES 60.

Chris Kelly (OTT) 65 GP 8G 11A -7, 15:50 mins/G, 12:36 mins/G ES, :08 mins/G PP, 1:26 points per ES 60.

Jay McClement (STL) 65 GP 11G 11A -6, 16:21 mins/G, 12:19 mins/G ES, :10 mins/G PP, 1.44 points per ES 60

There were a couple of other guys that, for comparison's sake I chose not to include because, frankly, it wasn't realistic. Steckel is obviously not going to compete with the likes of a Kris Versteeg, Andrew Cogliano or a Steve Stamkos, because one could say that those folks are better now in their early 20s than Steckel will ever be. So let's look at Stecks' totals compared to say, guys around his own age, and what stands out at you? 

Michael Handzus (LA) 66 GP 14G 19A -5, 18:51 mins/G, 12:13 mins/G ES, 3:12 mins/G PP, 1.16 points per ES 60 

Kyle Wellwood (VAN) 57 GP 14G 7A 5, 13:40 mins/G, 10:29 mins/G ES, 3:09 mins/G PP, 1.15 points per ES 60

Dominic Moore (BUF) 65 GP 12G 29A -1, 17:14 mins/G, 13:12 mins/G ES, 1:42 mins/G PP, 2.1 points per ES 60

Right, Moore's pp60 production notwithstanding, you've got guys who spend quite a bit of time on the man advantage. Now I know what you're saying, it's a slightly impossible leap to make, but hands up to those who thought Brooks Laich would become a 20 goal threat? Brooksy at least saw a shift or two of PP time in those lean years too. Now that the cupboard is far more loaded then it was then, another big body in front of the net, particularly when things get too cute, can't be a bad thing.

If this FanPost is written by someone other than one of the blog's editors, the opinions expressed in it do not necessarily reflect those of this blog or SB Nation.

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