After last season’s disappointing results, Steve Yzerman and the Wings’ brass needed to have a busy off-season. A flurry of signings and releases has meant the Detroit Red Wings’ roster is going to have a different look this upcoming season. Every hockey player has a past, present and, most importantly for Wings’ fans, future. Although the future is impossible to predict, markers in a player’s past can indicate a projected path. Let’s examine some of those clues.
While many Wings’ fans may be unfamiliar with him, NHL fans got to witness the emotion Troy Stecher exuded after scoring the go-ahead goal against the St.Louis Blues in Game 1 of last season’s NHL playoffs. Prior to entering the NHL bubble, the Richmond native lost his father unexpectedly. So, when he scored that goal and pointed to the heavens, we all took a moment to reflect on what makes hockey truly special. The truth is, the Red Wings got a defenceman that was a bottom-6 pairing for his first four years in the NHL… until the NHL bubble playoffs. Stecher was thrust alongside Alex Edler in a first-pairing role for the Canucks playoff run. This meant the 27-year-old Canadian went from playing approximately 20.5% of his ice-time against teams’ elite competition during the regular season, to 39.4% during the playoffs. This jump would be difficult to make during the regular season, let alone in the playoffs and on the heels of a family tragedy. But Stecher pulled one out. Averaging 18 points/season over four years, the stat line on Stecher is not overly impressive. However, he improved his +/- from -16 to -7 to +9 to +10 over his four years, showing measurable progress in his defensive play. Further, Stecher was a fan-favourite in Vancouver because of his passion and poise, and I expect that fandom will transfer to Detroit.
It was surprising to see that the Vancouver Canucks didn’t re-sign their young talented defenceman, but Steve Yzerman seized the opportunity to bring in a defenseman with a tremendous upside on a team-friendly 2-year $3.4 million contract. Wings’ fans will likely see Stecher lineup alongside another new arrival, Jon Merril in a second-pair role. That being said, Patrik Nemeth and Filip Hronek are not guaranteed to be the top-pairing when the puck drops on opening night. Because there is no clear, minute-munching pair, this offers the Wings’ a unique opportunity, which bodes well for Stecher carving out his spot in Detroit. Stecher and Nemeth are the only right-shot defenseman in the lineup, which means they will be competing to be number one on the right side. Currently, the Wings lack a defensive superstar and the emergence of one would be welcomed with open arms. This likely means Blashill wants to see this competition in training camp and throughout the season. At only 27, Stecher has played four seasons with at least 68 games in each campaign and, more importantly for Wings’ fans, was an integral part of a 1st round playoff upset over the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Last season the Wings boasted two defencemen in their late 30s and quickly learned they needed to get younger, fast. Yzerman was able to replace an aging blueline by cutting ties with Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley and injecting Troy Stecher. There is no denying that Stecher would have loved to stay at his boyhood club in Vancouver, but there is a real opportunity for him to establish himself as both a top-pairing defenceman and fan-favourite in ‘Hockeytown.’ The Detroit Red Wings have a history of hall-of-fame defenceman, many of whom were cornerstones in Stanley Cup winning teams. It is too early and, frankly unfair, to compare Stecher to the likes of Nicklas Lidström, Chris Chelios or Viacheslav Fetisov, but Wings fans embrace and love their D-men. Perhaps Stecher has already, unknowingly endeared himself to fans when he responded to the question of whether he would opt for unlimited tacos or sushi, saying, sushi of course. Well, Detroit, I’m sure we can make sushi out of Octopus…right?