When the Minnesota Wild signed forward Sam Steel to a one-year contract, after he was left unqualified by the Anaheim Ducks earlier in the summer, it was seen as an immense opportunity for both player and team. Steel, at just 24 years old, is getting a new opportunity with a team of his choosing, and the Wild are getting a former first-round pick that they believe has just not hit his stride.
Since making his NHL debut in the 2018-19 season, Steel has appeared in 197 games for the Ducks, scoring just 24 goals and 65 total points while averaging just over 14 minutes a game. Not the worst numbers for someone that was seen as a depth offensive contributor, but there was just still something not tapped into after he was a junior hockey scoring phenom.
Now in Minnesota and getting ready to start the season on the third line with sophomore sensation Matt Boldy and two-way forward Frederick Gaudreau, Steel might finally have gotten that chance to break free and show that he was worth the low-risk, high-reward contract.
Hell, head coach Dean Evason certainly thinks so.
“He’s got great speed. He’s a pro. We feel he hasn’t had the opportunity to likely play in situations, with people that he’s going to play with here,” Evason said of Steel after Friday’s practice. “We’re going to start him with Gaudreau and Boldy and we think it’s a real good line for us. A skilled line, but one that we can rely on as well.”
And the Wild front office most certainly agrees with their coach that Steel just never got his fair shake in the NHL while in Anaheim — and they would probably be right.
During the last two years, in the age range that most hockey players begin to take their stride and develop into what they are or will become, Steel’s most common linemates were the washed-up Jakob Silfverberg (who has not scored over 40 points in a season since 2018-19) and fellow youngster Troy Terry, who eventually moved on to a bigger role.
Steel was just stuck in this hole of playing with mediocre players on a bad team. And it isn’t to say that he wasn’t a mediocre player himself on the Ducks, but sometimes you just need that cooperative boost to lift yourself to the next level. Unless they are some generational talent, no forward can bring up both linemates to the next level and make them so much better than they already are.
Maybe they have something more with Steel, or maybe he will tag along with Boldy and suddenly score a bunch of points while not really driving play enough himself. Either way, he looked damn good so far in the preseason, scoring two goals and five points in four games.
The Wild just keep on swiping up young centers off the NHL’s cutting room floor and giving them a little more room to grow. Worked with Ryan Hartman, has somewhat worked for Frederick Gaudreau, and now Steel is the next one given this opportunity.