“Well well well, how the turntables” as Michael Scott would say. NHL Free Agency has an interesting way of twisting fates and turning rivals into brothers, or potentially vice versa. Sam Steel is the epitome of this, as his most recent ice time came in a nasty, heated series against the team he’ll be dressing for next year. If you can’t beat them, join them I suppose! All joking aside, speedy Sammy is a textbook sneaky solid signing for a number of reasons that will be proven as we approach the 2024 campaign.
When I saw Steel’s name on the ticker of Stars transactions during peak free agency excitement, I felt quietly positive about the young forward. Recent memory serves that he was quite problematic in the opening matchup against Minnesota last postseason, scoring the tying goal in the 2nd and assisting on Hartman’s OT winner.
His deployment was puzzling after that, as Dean Evason moved him up to 1C, out, and then down to 3C where he’d quietly finish the series. Silence on the scoresheet is dissimilar from how his game is actually played, providing elite, 1st round-pick speed to an otherwise heavy lineup. The pop amidst mostly punch served him well as he scored 28 points (10g, 18a) for a +11 rating on his 1-year prove-it deal for Bill Guerin’s Wild.
Judging from a recent piece put out by Hockey News Minnesota, the local writers were expecting Steel to return on a similar deal as before. In all fairness, he did sign a similar deal but not with the team that hosts Hockey Twitter’s most petulant fan base South of the Canadian border (yeah, this is a sneak diss at 10,000 Takes).
Steel recognized that he needs a more open system that utilizes speed better, with incredible breakout passers in Heiskanen & Harley. Nill recognized that he makes up for the depth speed Gurianov was expected to add last year, with a bit more skill and a lot more defensive capability. While he could add those 35 projected points to the bottom line, I could see him running wild for 40+ on that 3rd line with Seguin & Duchene.
Part of the optimism instilled in my mind comes from the team that gave up on him since Anaheim drafted him in the first round of the 2016 draft. Putting myself in Jim Nill’s shoes, who drafted now Avs forward Riley Tufte prior, it feels like signing Steel is essentially a do-over of the 2016 first round. Nill was choosing scoring and power over speed, the obvious priority of the ’15 draft based on the Hintz & Gurianov picks.
Anaheim was playing with house money, picking their second player in the first round, and taking a flyer on his potential. Armed with 1st round confidence, Steel set the WHL ablaze with 131 points as an 18-year-old and set his sights on an opening night spot.
Somewhere in this storyline, Sam Steel faltered and became another name in a bag of very young prospects. Troy Terry, Nick Ritchie, Onrej Kase, Max Comtois, and Max Jones were all around the same age and vying for playing time. Some developed faster than others and when it came time to qualify Steel’s entry-level contract, he was discarded.
Being disposed of by Anaheim is actually an indicator of future success, as this path was carved by the likes of William Karlsson, Shea Theodore, Fredrik Andersson, Brandon Montour, and the list goes on. Steel took step one of that path last year by careering in Minnesota and looks to hit step 2 in Dallas.
With a promising young forward entering his prime and restricted free agency in a year the cap is expected to leap, the Stars have all of the forwards they need for the year 2024. That being said, at least one of the young prospect forwards is expected to make the opening night roster at enticing cap hits beneath $1 million.
With work to do on the defense, there are whispers that Faksa ($3.25 mil) or possibly even Marchment ($4.5 mil) could be moved in a deal to free space for an RD. Steel’s ability to play Center adds another layer of versatility that will stoke those flames, though I’d enjoy him playing full speed on the wing with less defensive pressure. There is an embarrassment of riches in the Stars’ current lines of attack.
A sneaky, speedy signing in Sam Steel will be quite the storyline to follow as he enters the prime of his career in Victory Green. The one-year deal has recently inspired his play, based on last year’s results, and we’d all benefit from him proving it once more and earning next year’s qualifying offer.
The team needed speed beneath the lightning flash of the top line and Sam Steel will immediately contribute that no matter where he lands in the lineup. While this signing may prove to be a Steal, Jim Nill is not done cooking yet.