Yesterday, Jon explained why he feels signing NCAA free agents might not be a worthwhile endeavour for the Maple Leafs but gave us some information about a skilled young forward that might be worth pursuing if the team were to go down that road. While it would be nice to see Caggiula defy the odds and become an NHL regular, it’s far more likely we’ll be seeing Drake running through the six with his woes (Sorry I had to). Caggiula is the hometown boy, he’s the Hobey Baker finalist and he’s the guy that has been talked about by guys like Bob McKenzie in the mainstream for over a year now, but the college free agent that I think the Leafs should pursue is his University of North Dakota teammate Troy Stecher.
It’s been a talking point among Leaf fans over the past little while that while the prospect pool may be very impressive, the lack of defensemen for the future is something of a concern. It’s easy to project where a number of the forwards slot into the future of the team, but beyond Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, the blueline is a huge question. The addition of Connor Carrick before the trade deadline was impressive and through his first handful of games as a Maple Leaf, he has given fans reason to think he might be a third guy to slot in long-term. Sure there’s Travis Dermott, and a few guys who have impressed beyond expectations when they were drafted (Nielsen, Valiev, etc) but mostly everyone beyond Rielly and Gardiner are huge question marks. Of course there’s still the possibility that the Leafs lose the lottery and pick Jakob Chychrun fourth overall giving them a true blue chipper to build with, but that’s a scenario we don’t really want to think about.
NCAA free agents end up being career minor leaguers more than anything else, there is usually a reason they’ve been passed over in the draft multiple time. But when it comes to acquiring a guy without having to give up any assets, why not give it a try and hope for the best? Based on their hoarding of draft picks, we know that this management team likes to amass as many lottery tickets as they can. Signing a guy like Stecher is a way to take a shot on a kid that could end up filling a hole down the line.
Beyond the needs for young defenders, the Leafs specifically need a few guys that can play on the right side. Through his time in Detroit and with Team Canada, Babcock has shown a disdain for playing defencemen on their off side, favouring a right shot on the right side and a lefty on the left. Being a right-handed shot, was probably a large factor in Carrick being specifically targeted in any trade talks with the Capitals. Rielly shoots left, Gardiner shoots left, Marincin, Harrington, Percy, Dermott, Valiev, Nielsen, all shoot left. Troy Stecher shoots right.
— University of Hockey (@UofHockeyBlog) March 5, 2016
Stecher is the only regular on the University of North Dakota blueline that hasn’t been drafted into the NHL. the Richmond, BC native was drafted by the Portland Winterhawks but chose to bypass the WHL to play college hockey and is not expected to sign with an NHL team when his Junior season ends in the next few weeks.
Highly skilled two-way defenceman that displays tremendous poise with and without the puck. Soft hands that can pass as well as let rockets fly. Excellent vision and a playmaker’s knack for the game. Very aware and responsible defensively, but is not comfortable having the puck in his own end for too long and will take it upon himself to get the puck out of the defensive zone. His impact upon the game occurs at both ends of the ice as an offensive and defensive force.
This is the scouting report after Stecher’s Sophomore season. As you can see, he had the dynamic offensive ability but there is a bit of a knock on his defensive game. From all accounts that has changed this season as Stecher continued to grow as a man and mature as a player.
Stecher is one of the most dynamic defenders in the NCAA. His exceptional skating ability allows him to get up the ice and become a fourth attacker on the offensive rush, while still being able to get back and cover defensively. Stecher should be a perfect fit for the possession-oriented style of play in the NHL that values defensemen that can contribute offensively as well as play solid defense.
Just yesterday, SBNCollegeHockey listed Stether as the top player on their updated list of NCAA free agents. Through this season, he has shown an ability to become more than just an ‘offensive-defenceman’. He is truly a two-way player that can use his incredible skating ability to be impactful in all three zones.
— Brendan Jones (@MustBeJonesy) February 28, 2016
Troy Stecher seems like the kind of player that the Maple Leafs would and should be very interested in. He has a lot of skill and would fill a hole in the organization. That being said, we have to temper expectations. There is bound to be a number of teams vying to get Stecher’s signature on an entry-level contract and even if the Leafs were to win his services, all the glowing accolades we are hearing about him were said about Justin Schultz when he signed with the Edmonton Oilers a few years ago and look how that turned out.
He may be just another career AHLer like TJ Brennan, but the potential is there for Troy Stecher to be a good NHLer and as long as that chance exists, the Maple Leafs should absolutely pursue the 21-year-old defender. Shanny & Co. signed Casey Bailey last March as an NCAA free agent and if they’re going to repeat the tradition of focussing on one guy to add to the organization, Stecher should be target this year.