Former Capitals forward David Steckel was champing at the bit.
After spending much of the NHL lockout at his off-season home in Columbus, OH, the Toronto Maple Leafs center was ready to finally resume his NHL career with his team’s long awaited season opener.
But when the Maple Leafs took the ice for their Jan.19 game against the Montreal Canadiens, Steckel was a healthy scratch. The former first-round pick (Los Angeles Kings, 30th overall, 2001), was also scratched in Toronto’s next two games, making for a challenging start to his eighth NHL season.
“It’s obviously not the ideal start with the lockout first and foremost,” Steckel said after taking part in the Maple Leafs’ optional skate this morning. “Then coming in and not being in the lineup every night, it’s been difficult.”
Steckel finally made his season debut in Toronto’s fourth game of the season, a 7-4 home loss to the New York Islanders, skating just under eight minutes in a primarily fourth line role.
For the season though, Steckel has dressed for four games and been a healthy scratch for five. The 29-year-old is averaging a career-low 5:54 of ice-time per game, including just 26 seconds of shorthanded ice-time per game.
Steckel is still seeking his first point of the season and has yet to register a shot on goal. The former NHL leader in faceoff percentage (2010-11) has also won just six of the 18 draws he has taken this season.
“It’s a bit of a letdown,” Steckel said. “It’s hard to go back in after not playing for nine or ten months and then trying to step back in. It’s difficult but it’s also part of being a professional and hopefully I won’t have to worry about it too much in the future.”
Steckel said he was not sure if he would be suiting up against his former team tonight, but he acknowledged that despite his having spent parts of six seasons with the Capitals organization it’s at times hard to recognize the team he once played for.
“Honestly, it just feels like another team on the schedule,” he said. “There are a couple of guys here and there who I came up with, but it’s a business and there’s a lot of turnover, so no, it’s really not the same team I remember.”
The Capitals are now two coaches removed from when Steckel last played for them in 2011, but the one-time New Jersey Devil is familiar with the Caps current bench boss. Adam Oates was in his first-year as a Devils assistant when New Jersey acquired Steckel from the Capitals at the 2011 Trade Deadline.
“He’s very talented,” Steckel said, “and he’ll give you little tips here and try to make you get better, whether it’s the curve of your stick or trying to get one step quicker. Obviously he was an assistant coach in New Jersey when I was there, so as far as systems, I don’t know much in terms of what he’s about. But he was a great assistant coach to me and I enjoyed being with him.