Some centremen are scorers; looking to fill the net at every opportunity. Others are playmakers, who prefer to use their passing to create opportunities for their linemates. Sam Steel from the Regina Pats is of the second variety, a legitimate playmaker who generates scoring chances by way of puck movement.
He broke into the WHL back in 2014-15 with a 54-point season through 61 games. He followed that up this past season with 70 points in 72 games. He showed real growth, and put himself on the scouting radar as a likely second-round pick this year.
Birthplace: Edmonton, Alberta
Height: 5'11" Weight: 176lbs
Steel is as pure of a playmaker as you'll see. He is very creative with the puck and has great stick handling, which he uses to bide time and locate his teammates for scoring chances. He has exceptional passing, and can find his teammates through a crowd with crisp tape-to-tape passes.
An overwhelming 30 of his 46 assists last year were primary. It is clear that when he gets the puck in the offensive zone, he's looking to dish, and does so very well. Reading the reports on him from scouts, many have said that he is one of the more - if not the very most - polished passers available in the draft, and his stats back that notion up.
Though he is primarily a playmaker, he also possesses both a wrist shot and a slapshot that he can definitely finish with. Both have deceptively quick releases, and he often lets them go on the rush with success. He could stand to let his shot go more to be honest, because in my opinion it is rather underrated.
The need for him to get stronger has been expressed at length. In the offensive zone, he is too easily pushed out to the perimeter, and he lacks the physicality to win battles in his own end as well. As a centre, he needs to be more effective in his own zone, and he could be a veritable terror in the offensive zone if he could get to the dirty areas more often.
Simply put, the one thing he needs to do is hit the gym and get stronger. He's not a very small player, so he can definitely add more muscle to his frame, which would enable him to assert himself more at both ends of the ice regularly.
He will be a project player, but looking at what he brings to the table, he has real potential at the next level. Based on the creativity he shows with the puck, and his superior passing, he could become a top-six playmaking forward in the NHL.
Steel is a high-IQ, zero-hesitation, puck-possessor who thinks at a high level and elevates his teammates’ play. He is noticeably one of the smoothest and skilled passers available in the draft. His great peripheral vision and instincts allow him to jump on opportunities and find his teammate’s vacant stick blade. He loves to carry the puck and is a very skilled stickhandler. As a smaller guy, Steel tends to play on the perimeter a lot, reducing his effectiveness as he could be a real handful if he regularly took the puck into the trenches. To complement his great cognitive and playmaking game, he also has a shot that is nothing to scoff at. Steel continually changes his angle with his shifty play and has a quick release, making it a difficult for goaltenders to pick up. He is not a guy who anyone would classify as elite defensively, but he is reliable and can be counted on to help out.
He keeps his stick in a good position to pick up errant passes or control puck movement. Steel gets low in his own zone to provide net-front support and makes himself an open option on the breakout. His awareness is pretty good, although there are times a quick play by the opposition will catch him off guard. He is very small, but engages in board battles, digging for pucks, but not being very physical in doing so; instead, he relies more on his stick. He’s more of a puck-focused, push-and-shove guy instead of one who lines up to hit his opponent. Steel is effective in creating offense, using his great agility and speed to make plays. He is the Pat’s top-line guy, and we see a potential top-six NHL contributor if he can improve his strength.
Steel is an intelligent playmaking center with good hands and good skating. Steel already had an impressive rookie season, putting up almost a point per game pace for Regina last year. This season, Steel didn’t improve his pace by a lot, but had a rather productive playoffs and also appeared for Canada’s U18 team at the Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Steel is a center that plays with good hockey IQ and has been used in all situations and special teams for Regina. His reads allow him to always be near and involved in the play and he is quite good at being the player that supports puck-movement up the ice.
Steel has a fluid, effortless stride and good speed. He gets around the ice with ease and can handle the puck at speed which allows him to be a good neutral zone player and someone who can be useful both in helping his defense exit the zone as well as on the offensive zone entry. Steel is an adept playmaker who easily spots open linemates and distributes the puck to them with accurate passes. He is already very good at making plays with speed and excels off rush plays where the defense isn’t completely set up. He has a frame that is more on the light side and it is a bit more challenging for him to create offense against defense that is already set up in the defensive zone. In those situations, Steel is more likely to take what is given to him rather than challenge the defense. He will make good passes and can sneak into high-scoring areas if the defense isn’t paying attention, but has a harder time establishing his presence, creating space for himself and controlling the possession. Steel is primarily a playmaker but has shown the ability to finish.
His shot isn’t the hardest but he gets good accuracy on his wrist-shot and can get it off relatively quickly. Overall, he is a strong offensive player but can be prone to getting neutered and pushed to the perimeter. He will need to work on establishing his will more in the offensive zone and getting stronger. The latter is also an issue in the defensive zone. Steel has solid defensive smarts, but is simply not strong enough to win battles down low with any consistency. Steel offers a good package of skating, skill, playmaking ability, and hockey IQ. As he moves up the ranks, he will have to work on finding ways to impose his will more in the middle of the ice as opposed to settling for what he is given by the defense. He will also need to get physically stronger in order to defend more effectively
Steel backed up a strong regular season with the Regina Pats by having an outstanding WHL Playoffs, with 16 points in 12 games. He is a left handed center with very good speed and developing skill-set. Good playmaker and thrives when distributing the puck. Natural playmaker with excellent vision and able to find his teammates through seams in the ice, even under pressure. Also brings a lot of intangible tools including face-offs and leadership skills.Lack of size is a major concern. He finished the year playing with a lot more confidence and was willing to get his nose dirty and pay the price for the puck.
Hockey Prospect: 55th
Future Considerations: 35th
DraftBuzz Hockey: 31st
NHL Central Scouting: 30th (North American skaters)
Draft Analyst: 23rd
Depending on who remains to be selected when the Canadiens are on the clock in the second round, he could be worth a look. I would not have an issue with them taking him at 45th overall, but I suspect that they may be able to fill more pressing needs at that position.
If however they are going with the "best player available" mentality, it may very well be that Steel is their guy at 39th or 45th. If there aren't any better options to go with in order to fill an organizational need, this is a player with top-six potential that would be nice to have in the system.
He is still a shade short of that point-per-game pace that most like to see in CHL prospects, but he has shown growth since entering the WHL. He'll be back with the Pats next season, and it should be interesting to see what he can do as the focal point of their offence.
He would be a heck of a steal for any team if he somehow dropped into the third round, but based on everything I've read, that seems to be a major longshot.