Prospect Update: Sam Steel

Photo: Sergei Belski-USA Today

By Thomas Harrington

A first-round pick from 2016, center Sam Steel finally made his pro debut this past season, playing for both the Ducks and Gulls.

Anaheim had several injuries to start the season, leaving a spot open on Anaheim’s roster for Steel. Even without injury, Steel had a good enough training camp for him to make the NHL roster. However, he had a bit of a rough start to his NHL career. He went scoreless through his first four games and finally recorded an assist in his fifth career game. He played in 13 games through October and scored one goal and three points. Steel made some good plays, but he looked overmatched at times.

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Steel was assigned to San Diego at the start of November. It took a few games, but he quickly adjusted to the AHL as the month went on, and scored four goals in three games near the end of November. He remained with the Gulls through February. From that point on, he was back and forth between the NHL and the AHL to close out the season. Overall, he played in 53 AHL games and scored 20 goals and 41 points, an excellent rookie season. He finished tied for second in goals and tied for fourth in points on San Diego. He finished 19th in rookie scoring in the AHL, and all but two of the rookies who finished with more points played in more games than he did. With the Ducks, he played in 22 games and scored six goals and 11 points. So after only three points in 13 games, Steel scored eight points in nine games to finish off the season, including a hat trick against Vancouver.

Steel returned to the Gulls for the Calder Cup Playoffs. He had a strong start to the postseason, scoring four points in the four-game victory against San Jose. Steel’s offensive production slowed down from there, but he still finished the playoffs with six goals and 13 points in 16 games. He finished third in goals and points on the team. Steel was tied for fourth in rookie scoring in AHL playoff scoring, and the three players above him and the one tied with him all played in more games than he did.

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Steel met most of my expectations from a year ago. Primarily, I wanted him to show that his offensive ability would transfer to the pro leagues, and he did that. Even more importantly, he got better as the season went on, as evidenced by his strong play down the stretch with the Ducks. The only thing he didn’t do was play in more games with the Ducks than the Gulls. Still, Steel’s first professional season was a successful one.

This coming season, Ryan Kesler will likely miss the entire season, meaning there is at least one open center position in Anaheim, and I think that it’s Steel’s for the taking. He doesn’t have much more to prove in the AHL; now he needs to prove that he’s an NHL caliber player. If Steel can continue his play from the end of last season, he’ll have no trouble proving that he belongs in the NHL. So my expectation for him is to become a full-time NHL player this year. If he gets injured or struggles at some point, I’m okay with him getting some games in the AHL to help him get his game back, but he needs to spend most of the season in the NHL.

Steel has two years left on his entry-level contract. His first pro season was a successful one, and as long as his next two are even better, Anaheim will re-sign him, possibly to a long-term contract, and almost certainly to a one-way deal.

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September 2nd, 2019


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