In recent years, the WHL’s Regina Pats have been churning out NHL-level talent at a rapid pace.
That isn’t about to slow.
They’ll have at least one more plucked this year in the form of creative play-making center Sam Steel, who in his sophomore major-junior season, leads the team with 10 goals and 25 assists skating in all 36 of the Pats games so far in the 2015-16 campaign.
With holes left in the Pats lineup following the departure of several key pieces last season, including Calgary Flames prospect and 2013 first round (28th overall) pick Morgan Klimchuk, Steel was eager to step in and fill the void.
“Some older guys moved on so I guess there’s more responsibility on me,” Steel said. “I approach the game the same every night and try to do the best I can to help the team win.”
Despite posting an impressive record at the 2015 WHL trade deadline, the Pats became sellers. They traded away a big chunk of their offensive core, sending Klimchuk to the Brandon Wheat Kings and veterans Connor Gay and Dryden Hunt to the Red Deer Rebels and Medicine Hat Tigers.
This season, attention to the Pats roster down the middle has shifted to Steel, a flashy forward whose creative play-making ability is coupled with a phenomenal understanding of the game.
After a 54-point rookie campaign, Steel earned a spot on Team Canada’s entry at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic, where he scored a goal and two assists in four games to help his country win gold.
The experience overseas boosted the 6-foot, 176-pound forward’s development heading into his NHL draft year.
“I got to play with and against the best players in the world,” he explained. “It was a great experience. It’s interesting to go over to Europe and play over there. All in all it was a great experience and I was lucky enough to be a part of it.”
Steel is one of four WHLers projected by Future Considerations to be selected in the first round of the upcoming draft. In Future Considerations’ December ranking, the Edmonton, Alta., product was ranked 24th, one spot ahead of Calgary Hitmen defenseman Jake Bean.
Future Considerations Western Canada head scout Zenon Herasymiuk notes Steel’s explosive speed, vision and sharp passing ability.
“Steel is a dangerous talent with a loaded arsenal of offensive weapons at his disposal,” Herasymiuk said of Steel. “He is a quick skater that shows some good pop in his step in open ice while also having the elusiveness to exploit small gaps in opposing defenses. He has amazing hands, which allow him to drive possession and cut around the ice with the puck.
“While Steel plays a high tempo game with a lot of skill, he needs to get a little bit stronger to increase his effectiveness in the hard areas, while also showing more of an inclination for taking his offensive game to the middle of the ice.”
If all goes as planned, Steel will be the first Pat selected in the first round since Klimchuk, but he’s not letting the NHL Draft hype get to his head.
His focus right now is leading the Pats to a third-straight WHL post-season appearance as they sit on the bubble with a 16-16-5 record.
“It’s always going to be there but it’s something you’ve got to try to put to the back of your mind,” Steel said of the looming draft day in June. “There’s a lot of games left in the season. There’s a lot of hockey to be played.”