Some people are saying the Anaheim Ducks are at a crossroad. Tear down or double down?
I say it's time to gamble in California.
Good teams have strong centerman and good defence and the Ducks have both covered. On top of that the Ducks' Rickard Rakell had a career year last season and is the new driving force of the offence in Anaheim. It's been a long time since the best player in Anaheim wasn't one of the veterans but it's great news nonetheless.
Anaheim has an ageing core led by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves and Ryan Kesler but they also had a great season last year finishing with a 44-25-13 record. That was good enough for 101 points and second in the Pacific division. "Ageing core" in the NHL means 33-34 years old FYI. Anaheim has a perfect mix of young talent and veterans to make for a very good hockey club.
Sam Steel is the most exciting prospect in Anaheim. Scratch that. He's the most exciting prospect in California not named Jack Hughes. He's a Canadian center who was drafted 30th overall back in 2016 and has all the skills to be an impact player in the NHL. He's been an absolute beast in the WHL and should be an exciting prospect to watch this season.
Sam is also a scoring machine. In a little over four seasons for the Pats he has played in 258 games and put up 338 points (1.31 ppg) in the regular season. Despite those impressive numbers Steel will probably spend time with Anaheim's AHL affiliate the San Diego Gulls this season. He’s only 20 years old and entering into his first professional campaign and while he can play a few games in the NHL before burning that first season the chances are he will probably be sent down after a brief stint with the Ducks to begin the season.
Steel led his team to the Memorial Cup championship game last season by scoring 13 points in only 5 games being named tournament MVP. Unfortunately his Regina Pats lost to the Acadie-Bathurst Titans in the final.
I had the pleasure of seeing him both at the WJC and when the Pat's came to Calgary to play against the Hitmen. In the game against the Hitmen he looked like he was playing against pee-wee players. In that game he had a modest one goal and one assist, with his goal being the OT winner. He was a threat every time he was on the ice and could have easily had 4 or 5 points with the amount of grade a chances he created. While the Hitmen played one of their better games of the season it was still "the Sam Steel show" and he was worth the price of admission.
Sam Steel has been impressive everywhere he's played. He was a big part of Team Canada's gold medal winning team at the WJC in Buffalo and has been the best player in Regina for a while. He also played in the Hlinka Cup and won that too. It appears wherever he goes a string of success follows.
Sam is an undersized center (5-11, 185) but he has great speed--something that differentiates him from the other centers in Anaheim. However it will be tough for Sam Steel to become a center in the NHL, at least immediately due to the names in front of him. The Ducks could put him on the 4th line, but grinding out 4th line minutes for a kid who's used to leading his team night in and night out isn't going to be beneficial to his development.
I expect Sam to spend the first few games of the season with the big club, then spend the majority of the season with the Gulls before finally being called up for the Ducks playoff push, assuming everyone stays healthy.
The Ducks took the long road with Steel and it seems to have paid off, he's gotten better each season and there's no doubt whether he is in the AHL or NHL, he will be productive for his team.