From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading the 2008-09 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2009-10. Next up,.
#39 / Center / Washington Capitals
Mar 15, 1982
$725,000 cap hit in 2009-10; UFA after 2009-10 season
Interesting Stat: The Caps are 15-2 all-time (regular season and playoffs) in games in which Steckel scores a goal.
The Good: In his second full season in the League, Steckel set career highs in games played, goals, assists, shots on goal per game and plus-minus, and lowered his per game penalty minutes. He led the Caps in shorthanded goals (2) and points (3), was fifth among the forwards in hits and first in blocked shots, and took the second-most draws on the team (nearly 58% of which he won).
Those regular season numbers tell a bit of the story of Steckel's 2008-09, but they're not nearly as interesting as what followed in a post-season that saw the towering pivot center an incredibly effective third-line, score in each of the first two games of the second round and then give Caps fans their highlight of the season with his overtime game winner in Pittsburgh to force Game 7. Heck, he even raised his face-off percentage in the playoffs, including winning 63% of his second-round draws.
... And all of the above for a $512,500 cap hit (or less than 1/8th of what Sergei Fedorov earned). As Bruce Boudreau commented in the wake of the Game 6 overtime goal, "When you compete as hard as David does, sometimes good things happen to you. You can win with guys like that. A lot of coaches want guys like David Steckel." Indeed.
The Bad: It's hard to ding a guy who got no power play time and skated with low-quality linemates for a lack of offense, so we won't, even though Steckel is a guy just two years removed from a 30-goal/61-point AHL campaign (in a much different role, of course). And while it's not really "bad" and more a function of Boudreau's reluctance to match lines, it is worth noting that Steckel didn't play against particularly difficult competition this year. Frankly, it's hard to come up with anything negative to write about Stecks
other than noting the virtually empty net into which he didn't score in overtime of Game 5 against the Penguins - he is what he is: a very effective checking center who may be blossoming into a bit more.
The Vote: Rate Steckel below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Can Steckel be the Caps' third-line center in 2009-10, or is he better-suited to man the middle on the fourth line? What will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?