From Alzner to Varlamov, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2009-10 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2010-11. Next up, David Steckel.
#39 / Center / Washington Capitals
Key Stat: Steckel's 2:59 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game were more than any other Capitals forward.
Interesting Stat: For the third year in a row, Steckel had exactly one game-winning goal in the regular season.
The Good: Steckel had another solid season doing what he does best: playing a checking line role. Steckel's calling card, faceoff prowess, was again on full display in 2009-10, his 59.2 winning percentage good for second in the league, behind only San Jose's Scott Nichol. Of course, while his skill on the dot might be what gets Steckel the most attention, it's certainly not his only contribution to the team. Only one Capitals' player (Matt Bradley) took penalties less often in 5-on-5 situations or had a better penalties drawn to penalties taken ratio. Only Alex Ovechkin had a lower GAON/60 than Steckel, a feat made more impressive by the fact that Steckel had the worst quality of teammates rating of any Caps regular. Ovechkin was also the only Capitals forward who finished with more hits than Steckel in '09-'10.
Playing as a forward in the NHL's best and most exciting offense, these kinds of achievements aren't exactly going to get you a ton of press or glamor (well, most places at least), but reliable depth players are an important piece of any successful NHL team.
The Bad: Steckel's modest 2008-09 output was lessened in 2009-10, as his goal total slipped from eight to five and his point total from 19 to 16. As a whole, Steckel's offensive contribution was so slight so as to be virtually meaningless. He was the only regular Capital forward with a negative offensive goals versus threshold (GVT) rating and one of only 95 NHL forwards (out of 379 who qualified) to have a negative rating. Of the 386 fowards who played at least 40 games in the NHL in 2009-10, only 93 had fewer points per minute at 5-on-5 than Steckel and only 45 scored less often. Simply put, David Steckel's a very poor offensive player at the NHL level.
His defensive skills and willingness to do the dirty jobs gives Steckel value but, while he's perhaps better than many of his teammates, he is by no means elite. As the team's leading forward shorthanded ice time getter, and one who doesn't far particularly well in the individual numbers (his 8.65 GAON/60 was better than only 15 of the league's 169 regular penalty killing forwards), Steckel probably had to take as much blame as anyone (well, any of the players at least) for the Capitals poor penalty killing unit. And while Steckel is willing to get down and dirty and fight on faceoffs, his doesn't blocked a particularly high number of shots (or block them particularly often) and he perhaps doesn't hit as much as he could.
Finally, Steckel's playoffs have to be considered a disappointment. Not that he played particularly poorly when he was in the lineup, but because of the fact we're able to add the "when he was in the lineup" caveat. You can blame the matchup if you want, but the reality is that a guy who can't be counted on against any and every team in the NHL has his value significantly diminished.
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: What is Steckel's role moving forward? Is he a legitimate third line center, or is he better suited to the fourth line? How about as a penalty killer? Should the Capitals be comfortable with Steckel as one of their key guys, or do they need an upgrade? Lastly, how do you feel about Steckel's three-year, $3.3 million dollar extension? What would it take for Steckel to earn a '10' in 2010-11?