Draft Profile: Sam Steel, Regina Pats
A teammate of Rangers' prospect Sergey Zborovskiy could provide the Rangers with playmaking ability down the middle that the prospect pool lacks.
Sam Steel, Regina Pats (WHL)
Birthday: February 3rd, 1998 (18 years old)
Height/Weight: 5'11, 178 lbs
2015-2016 Stats (Including Playoffs): 84 GP, 29 G, 57 A, 28 PIM,-3
NHL Central Scouting: 30th (North American Skaters)
Corey Pronman ESPN): 29th
Future Considerations: 35th
Hockey Prospect: 55th
Craig Button (TSN): 56th
What I've learned from Steve Valiquette since I began working for him is that everything on offense is built around what we call the "slot line." The bulk of offensive zone activity in today's NHL is built around searching for screens and deflections, with the puck largely moving around the perimeter. The elite playmakers are the ones who are able to penetrate the middle.
Sam Steel is very good at breaking down defensive setups and making plays through the slot. Here's some video I put together which shows this.
These are the kinds of plays that lead to high-percentage shots. The shot location is good, sure. More important is how little time the goaltender has to recognize the pass, move his body to get in position, and then set himself. It leads to quite a number of good scoring chances. The difficult part is actually making these passes happen. Steel has incredible puck poise. He can keep the stick on his blade in tight spots. He moves his feet while keeping his head up, allowing him to create passing lanes and then find them. Finally, he's a precision passer who will put it onto his target's blade more often than most.
Despite being a playmaker, Steel has enough goals in him to make him multi-faceted and to keep the opposition honest. He's not going to blast shots from the perimeter over the goalie's shoulder but he can carry the puck into shooting areas and has a solid wrist-shot. He's good at hiding his release and catch cheating goaltenders off-guard. He's a very good skater, and he's not afraid to take defenders on one-versus-one if he feels it's available to him.
Defensively, he's okay. He's probably not going to be on your top penalty kill unit but he's not going to blow coverages in his own zone or leave your team exposed in any way. He sticks with his man and has an active stick. Regarding physicality, I like how Future Considerations described him. "He's more of a puck-focused, push-and-shove guy instead of one who lines up to hit his opponent," they wrote. One of the clips above shows him digging a puck out of a board battle and holding off a few attempts at his body to make a pass.
When you look at other playmaking centers like Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard, one aspect that makes them special is their ability to command offense between the faceoff circles. Neither are big, but but they aren't afraid to go into more vulnerable areas of the offensive zone, where there's not much time to make a play. Right now Steel is a superb playmaker off the rush or along the half boards. I would just like to see him make more plays in the middle of the zone. He has the quick hands and puck poise to do so. He just has to get into the mindset of doing it.
Steel is what I'll call a "pivot second-rounder." The safe place to project a team selecting him is in the middle of the second round. It would not be a surprise to see a team keen on him nab him with a late first-round pick, but by the same token he could just as easily drop into the third round. It's pretty easy to envision Steel as a playmaking center on a scoring line as well as on the perimeter of a 1-3-1 or umbrella power play. Where he gets drafted will depend on how raw teams believe he is. Gordie Clark's success in drafting beyond the first round has usually been in finding talented players who were rough around the edges. Steel is not a finished product, but there's a strong foundation to build upon.