Troy Stecher is making major strides in his third NHL season.
The 24-year-old from Richmond, BC has become an important fixture on Vancouver's blueline as the team has dealt with injuries to several key players.
Stecher is on pace to double his 2017-18 offensive output with 19 points through 65 games this season, but it's his defensive play that is earning the trust of Canucks Nation.
Stecher is currently seeing the most ice time of his young NHL career and sits second on the team with a plus-8 rating. He's proving to be incredibly versatile and has become a staple on the penalty kill.
Video: Troy Stecher Takes the Corolla Hatchback for a Drive
When blueliners Chris Tanev and Alex Edler went down with injury, Stecher stepped up and played a critical role. The Canucks have dealt with a variety of injuries in 2018-19 and recently traded away Michael Del Zotto and Erik Gudbranson. Stecher has done a terrific job filling the void, playing on the team's top defensive pairing and logging heavy minutes.
Since the Edler injury on Feb. 4 against the Flyers, Stecher ranks third among all NHL blueliners with 25:43 average ice time. After averaging 20:00 of ice time in the previous two seasons, he logged a career-high 31:55 of ice time in a win against the Kings on Valentine's Day. His strong work ethic has been evident since he arrived in Vancouver and he's now earned a bigger role and more responsibility.
Not only is playing around 25 minutes a night, but he leads all Vancouver blueliners with 32 takeaways this season and has been credited with 66 blocked shots and 78 hits. Since mid-February, no player on the team has seen more ice time shorthanded.
Stecher doesn't appear on the highlight reel most nights, but that isn't a bad thing. He's so reliable in his own zone and consistent with his breakout passes that you rarely notice him for the wrong reasons. Take Bo Horvat's 20th goal of the season as an example. While all the focus was on the tremendous primary assist from Elias Pettersson, Stecher started the play with a fanatic zone exit in which he shielded off a forechecker and made an excellent breakout pass with one hand.
Video: SJS@VAN: Pettersson sets up Horvat with great pass
At 5'10" and 186 lbs, Stecher isn't one of the bigger defenseman in the NHL. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in worth ethic and talent. Stecher uses his mobility and high hockey IQ to deny zone entries and make strong outlet passes. He never gives up on puck battles and has tremendous positioning that aids in gap control and cutting off shooting and passing lanes.
Considering most talented NHL defenders were taken in the draft, Stecher's story is an interesting one. The puck-moving rearguard was an undrafted defenseman who signed with the Canucks as a free agent out of North Dakota in 2016. He led the Fighting Hawks to their eighth NCAA Championship in his final NCAA season while ranking sixth in league scoring among defensemen with six goals and 29 points. The Canucks took a chance on a promising college defenseman and its paid off nicely.
Stecher made an immediate impact in his rookie season with the Canucks, posting three goals and 24 points in 71 games. His strong work-ethic led him to being voted the team's best defensemen by the fans. The poise has been there from Day 1 and his maturity and compete level continue to improve each season.
Stecher's first career NHL goal is a great example of his complete skill-set and what he brings to the table. In this sequence, Stecher reads a clearing attempt by the Stars and makes a great block at the blueline to keep the puck in the zone. After stopping the clearing attempt, Stecher showcases great mobility to deke around forward Jamie Benn before unleashing a slapshot past goaltender Kari Lehtonen to tie the game.
One of Stecher's best games this season came against the Toronto Maple Leafs in March. The versatile blueliner turned in a workhorse performance, firing four shots on goal, blocking three shots and dishing out three hits. He logged a total 27:47 of ice time, including 3:26 on the power play and 2:43 shorthanded.
Stecher was an absolute force at both ends of the ice and led the Canucks to a 3-2 victory against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. His big hit on superstar Auston Matthews is a great example of his awareness to recognize a situation and deny a zone entry with a great read.
Stecher has become a reliable two-way, puck-moving defenseman who can be depended on in all situations. He's signed for one more season to a $2.325 million per year contract and will be a RFA when it expires. With talented defensive prospects Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi in the system, Stecher is making a strong case to be at the forefront of the team's youth movement on the blueline.