The Wild Need...David Steckel?

Dave Steckel doing what he does. Crouching on his skates. And yeah, probably winning a face-off. - Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

A competitive 4th line is a luxury. A luxury you need in order to be a succesful team in the National Hockey League. Ask a bunch of Bruins fans, they'll tell you. If the Wild want one...Well, Dave Steckel just might be their guy.

Now, I'm terribly sorry for not giving you something to read about Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, "El Nino" or some other "sexy" player on the training camp roster. I'm not saying those aren't interesting topics, because they are.

I'm just saying that David Steckel can change a whole lot if he makes the team. And that change will be positive.

Of course, a guy like Steckel won't make or break a team's season. Not by himself at least. That role is reserved for the big dogs. Steckel, or who ever ends up with that 4th line center spot, can play out of his mind for the whole 82 games, and it won't matter one bit if Mikko Koivu can't deliver on the first line. That's the reality.

But "reality", in this case, has another side to it as well. For the top line guys to be able to perform at a high level night in, night out, the 4th line MUST be one that you can throw out on the ice in a 3-3 tie when there's 5 minutes left in the game. They won't jump over the boards to score, but they'll be there to keep their matchup, whatever that matchup may be at that time, scoreless.

And if you look at the best 4th lines around the league in the past 10-or-so years, there have been some excellent combinations. The trio of Shawn Thornton - Gregory Campbell - Daniel Paille is still my personal favorite. I know they didn't like being called a "4th line", but on paper that's what they were. And they were awesome.

At their peak as a line, they could play against any opposing line. And that's what you ask for. That's all you ask for. That you can trust your 4th line to be somewhat competitive in any situation on the ice. Now, on top of just "competing", they dominated against pretty much any team's "bottom six".

That's a luxury for any team's top line. It's a whole different story when you can play steadily 6-ish minutes a period (depending on penalties), instead of playing 8+ minutes in the third because your coach is scared stiff when he even thinks of putting the 4th line out there.

And this is where I bring up Steckel. There are 11 centers in the training camp roster. Koivu is a lock for the 1st line, Coyle and Granlund won't be playing in the 4th in any case. If the only open spot in the roster can be found on the 4th line for either of them...Iowa sounds better. Then the obvious ones to not make the team as a center; Tyler Graovac (One day, I'm telling you. Kid's got talent.), Chad Rau, Zack Phillips, Jake Dowell and Erik Haula. Haula is a long shot as a winger, but that's a topic for another article in the future.

And seeing as Brodziak is a mortal lock to be the third line pivot (barring injuries), that leaves us with Zenon Konopka and Steckel. I know that Mitchell CAN play in the middle, but he's a much more reliable and consistent player as a winger. And in the face-off circle, Mitchell isn't on the same level as Konopka or Steckel.

For a 4th line to be effective, the most important player is the center. The center needs to be effective in the face-off circle, can't be taking penalties and has to be strong along the boards. Konopka is a great face-off man, but is prone to "dumb" penalties due to his sometimes overly aggressive post-whistle play. And no disrespect to Konopka who I actually like as a player, but he isn't a guy you want centering a line when you're tied or trying to keep a one goal lead in the third.

Steckel isn't a guy you really notice on the ice except when he's winning face-offs. But he's a player you can pass the puck to. That sounds like it's nothing, but it really isn't. Konopka is a huge attitude guy, but you can't rely on him to make a play in the middle of the ice when the defenseman gets the puck to him. The same goes along the boards near the blue lines. That's the official "make a play or screw up multiple line changes that follow" -zone. Get the puck out of your zone and you're good. Win a battle, make a play and get the puck to the weak side winger or a defenseman that reads the play and decides to jump up the ice. Then you're really good, a simple play like that can change the momentum of a game for a good few minutes.

Steckel is better with the puck on his stick, better with deflections and is just a dependable player. Neither of them are fast, bust Steckel is a bit stronger on his skates. Konopka fights admirably, but isn't a strong player on his skates. He gets knocked off the puck easily and doesn't win many 1-on-1 battles because he doesn't have the speed or strength.

The basic point here is this; Steckel would be an upgrade over Konopka. A big upgrade if you ask me. The Wild can afford him. Easily. Steckel would make the Wild's 4th line better, more competitive. If the Wild ever want to make that "next step", a good 4th line is among the necessities.

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