After three impressive games with the Vancouver Canucks, Troy Stecher is on his way to join his AHL teammates with the Utica Comets.
This is a strange one.
Stecher, the Richmond native who was signed as a free agent out of the University of North Dakota this summer, was the surprise of training camp. The 5-foot-10 defenceman was better than anticipated offensively and defensively, playing on a pairing with Alex Edler.
He was sent to the minors after the conclusion of preseason, as the Canucks stuck to their offseason plan. It was a prudent move to give a player like Philip Larsen a chance to prove himself in NHL games, while not altering plans after what can often be a misleading time in the preseason.
When Edler’s defensive partner Chris Tanev suffered an injury last week, Stecher was called up to replace him, vaulting past Alex Biega and Nikita Tryamkin who were patiently waiting for their opportunity to play.
It was an unusual decision by the Canucks, but one that paid dividends, despite the fact that the team lost three in a row with Stecher in the lineup.
Stecher was thrown into the fire right away, playing on the team’s top pairing with Edler in his first game. He played 22:35 that night, and looked solid. In his second game, he played 19:49 and again looked good.
Stecher played 21:42 on Saturday, the second most minutes on the team. His five shots on goal led the team, as did his 4:33 of power play time.
Head coach Willie Desjardins clearly has confidence in the 22-year-old blueliner. So why, with Tanev ready to return from injury, is Stecher on his way to join the Utica Comets?
It has been reported that the Canucks are fearful of losing defenceman Alex Biega on waivers. Biega could have some extra value to an organization for expansion draft purposes. Each team can protect three defenceman, but will need to expose at least one blueliner in June with the following requirements:
- Under contract in 2017-18
- Played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.
Biega should check both boxes. He appeared in 51 games last season, and has played one this year as well. That means he’s only 18 games away from qualifying.
Luca Sbisa is also under contract for next season and should meet the requirements given he is just 20 games away from qualifying.
Here’s how the rest of the team’s defencemen are likely to set-up for the expansion draft:
- Canucks protect: Edler, Tanev, and Erik Gudbranson
- Exempt due to age/experience: Stecher, Tryamkin, Ben Hutton
- Exposed, but not under contract next season: Philip Larsen
So the Canucks will need to keep Biega or Sbisa, but not both, for the expansion draft.
In the meantime, the Canucks are sending down one of their best blueliners at a time when they need a win desperately. That seems counterproductive to a team that has stated that they want to be a playoff team.
Vancouver simply isn’t good enough to risk leaving points on the table. Best-case scenario is likely that the Canucks are fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot come April. If Stecher can help prevent a goal on a third pairing or help breathe life into a struggling power play, it makes sense to keep him in the lineup.