Troy Stecher captured the hearts of a number of fans after his strong play for the Canucks during the preseason. He surprised many, including the coaching staff, with how good he was so quickly into his pro career.
But that was the preseason, a place where breakout performances are more likely to be a mirage than a sign of things to come.
On Tuesday night Stecher, who played with the University of North Dakota last season, got a chance to prove that his preseason was no fluke. Filling in for the injured Chris Tanev, the 22-year-old Richmond native performed admirably.
Defencemen playing in their first NHL game typically get slotted in on a third pairing, playing in sheltered/limited minutes. Not the case for Stecher, who had only played four pro games (all in the AHL) before his NHL debut.
Stecher played 22:35, just two seconds behind ice time leader Alex Edler. To put that in perspective, here is how much ice time other Canucks defencemen received when they played their first game in the NHL:
- Ben Hutton: 17:03
- Alex Biega: 16:53
- Luca Sbisa: 16:27
- Alex Edler: 13:16
- Chris Tanev: 12:49
- Philip Larsen: 11:52
- Nikita Tryamkin: 11:33
- Erik Gudbranson: 10:59
So Stecher was put into an impossible situation. It was a position to fail. But instead of failing, he thrived, and was full value in being named the game’s third star.
I was as skeptical as they come with regard to Stecher’s preseason, and while one game doesn’t mean he’s the second coming of Brian Rafalski, it does bode well for his ability to play in the NHL this season.
Stecher led the Canucks in 5-on-5 shot differential (aka Corsi), with a +7 rating against the Sens.
“I had my moments, I think I created some offence,” Stecher said. “There’s some shifts that I’d like to have back.”
The defensive pairing of Edler and Stecher were on the ice for the shots directed at Ottawa’s goal, as well as the most directed at their own.
Stecher was on the ice for Ottawa’s first goal, but the blame for that one falls at the feet of Canucks forwards who made a bad line change, and Edler, who should have challenged Sens centre Derick Brassard earlier. At the very least, it was a team effort.
Looking at 1-0 goal from yesterday, wasn't sure who to fault. Stecher checked nobody. But blame goes to Edler for not challenging earlier. pic.twitter.com/R4gegt36L2
— Rob Williams (@RobTheHockeyGuy) October 26, 2016
If Stecher has the confidence of the coach to play big minutes ahead of Sbisa (16:00), Larsen (15:05), and healthy scratches Tryamkin and Biega, I’m not sure it’s wise to send him back to Utica.
“[Stecher] was good,” head coach Willie Desjardins said in his post-game media conference. “That’s hard to come in and step into that role. The one thing you know with him, he’s going to play hard all the time. He might make a mistake, but he’s going to battle hard, he’s going to try to recover, he has lots of good attributes.”
Tanev was seen at Rogers Arena in a walking boot on Wednesday morning, so a roster spot should be open for at least a couple more games at least, opening the door wider for Stecher.
Stecher could still slip up, of course, but if he keeps this pace up, he’ll make a believer in all of us. He has excellent offensive instincts, he’s dynamic and speedy, and he possesses a quick, hard release on his point shots.
— Ryan Biech (@ryanbiech) October 26, 2016
Is he an upgrade on Larsen, the player tasked with fixing Vancouver’s power play? Perhaps. Stecher was scheduled to play on the team’s first unit power play, but the Canucks only received six seconds of time with the man advantage against Ottawa.
Is he an upgrade defensively on both Sbisa and Larsen at 5-on-5? That’s certainly possible as well.
We’ll see how pride of Richmond does against bigger and better teams, but he’s passed the first test with flying colours.