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Pacific Division notebook

Canucks find building block in defenseman Troy Stecher; Kings forward Adrian Kempe adjusting to NHL game

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

In their internal search for some future building blocks, the Vancouver Canucks can put a check mark beside one name.

Rookie defenseman Troy Stecher, 22, has played like he'll be around for some time.

"He's been great right from the start of the year," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said. "We sent him down [to the American Hockey League after training camp] and he came back with the attitude that he was here to stay.

"He's a small guy (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) but he plays hard. The best thing about Stecher is that he probably gets better when the situation gets tougher, like late in games when things are getting tough. That's when he probably moves his feet and does his best things. He's been good for us all year."

Stecher made his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 25. He's averaged 20:20 per game, one of eight NHL rookie defensemen to play that much.

The native of the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, British Columbia hinted that he might have surprised himself this season.

"I'm sure I have but I honestly haven't had time to reflect on it," he said.

Stecher said one of the biggest lessons he's learned has been never to take anything for granted.

Video: NYI@VAN: Stecher ties game with 19.3 seconds left

"In my mind, I wanted to make it to this level this year," he said. "But being here is one thing and I can't get too complacent. Things can change pretty quickly in this League and guys can go in and out so I have to find a way to work hard and prove that I belong."

Stecher signed with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent after three seasons at the University of North Dakota, which he helped win the NCAA Division I championship last season. His former teammates, Chicago Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz, Edmonton Oilers forward Drake Caggiula and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Paul LaDue, all have made the jump to the NHL this season.

That championship was a big stepping stone in his graduation to the NHL, Stecher said.

"It taught me how to win at a high level," he said. "It's so tough at every level but that's the ultimate goal for every individual. You want to help contribute to a winning organization, college or whatever team you're on.

"We faced adversity at different times. It can get pretty low and pretty high at different times. So it taught me how to be composed and mature as an individual."

As the Canucks reconfigure their roster late in what likely will be a second straight season out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Stecher adds to a younger mix of defensemen. His partner for most of the season has been veteran Alexander Edler, who at 30 is their oldest defenseman.

Video: VAN@CHI: Stecher fires a wrister in for PPG

Edler, too, has witnessed Stecher's ability to raise the level of his game.

"It's tough when you're coming in as a defenseman in this League, a bit tough in the beginning," Edler said. "But obviously he's got good skills that have made him successful. And that defensive part, the play without the puck and the battling in your own end, that's one part he's been improving.

"He asks when he's wondering something and I try to talk to him after plays, try to help him out. I think he's a smart player."

Stecher has 22 points (three goals, 19 assists) in 62 games and said he watches Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild and Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks for keys to improving his game.

And he's had plenty of help from inside the Canucks locker room.

"I've played almost every game with [Edler], so definitely him," Stecher said. "[Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin], it goes without saying, they've done something for everyone in this room. And then [Erik] Gudbranson has been a voice. He hasn't been in the lineup because of his injury but he's been a presence, a voice, helping me with a lot of little things. Those four for sure have been a huge help, especially [Edler].

"We worked out in the summer. He took me under his wing right away."

 

Smaller is better

The adjustment from bigger European rinks to smaller ones in North America has been to Los Angeles Kings forward Adrian Kempe's liking.

Kempe, 20, was selected with the No. 29 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. The native of Kramfors, Sweden, played his first full season in North America with Ontario of the American Hockey League in 2015-16.

"Since I came from Sweden, that was a big adjustment from that game to the AHL," Kempe said. "I got used to it after a couple of months in the AHL last year and I kind of like the game a little bit more here.

"It's a little bit faster game and a little bit more intense than back in Sweden. I think I like that more. And from the AHL up to the NHL, you have even less time with the puck so you have to be on your toes all the time and you have to make plays. It's a high-speed game and intense, too, and I like that. Of course it's harder but you have to be on your toes all the time, which is good."

Video: BUF@LAK: Kempe rips a perfect wrister past Lehner

Since being called up Feb. 15, Kempe said he's worked hard to gain the trust of coach Darryl Sutter.

"I've tried to get my coach's trust the whole season, in the AHL as well," he said. "You've got to play 100 percent and got to be good in the [defensive] zone. Obviously I try to use my speed as much as possible with the puck but you have to play hard and be 100 percent on every shift otherwise you're not going to play. I get more confidence with the puck from every game."

Kempe made a dream, his first NHL goal, a reality with the game-winner against the Washington Capitals on March 11. It was his 11th NHL game.

"It was a great feeling," said Kempe, who has six points (two goals, four assists) in 16 NHL games. "It was a tight game and a big goal, so I was extra glad.

"It's good that we got the win, too."

 

Stat pack

With 10 games to play, the Kings path to the postseason is difficult despite being one of the League's best defensive teams. They are fifth in goals-allowed per game (2.46). The last team to miss the postseason after being in the League's top five in goals-allowed per game was the 2014-15 Kings (fifth, 2.40), who finished with 95 points. The last team other than the Kings to miss the playoffs after finishing in the top five was the 2009-10 Calgary Flames (fifth, 2.48), who had 90 points. The Kings are the League's best team in goals-allowed per game since the start of the 2012-13 season at 2.32 through 366 games. … San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns leads the League with 287 shots on goal. He's ninth in the League scoring race with 70 points (27 goals, 43 assists). … Since the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Game, Brian Elliott of the Calgary Flames leads all goalies with 14 wins.

 

Games to watch

Calgary Flames at Nashville Predators (March 23, 8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, SN-F, NHL.TV) -- The jockeying for postseason positions in the Western Conference is intense. This game is between the teams holding the first (Flames, 86 points) and second (Predators, 83 points) wild cards into the playoffs from the West. Each would like to move into a more secure position among top three in their respective division, the Flames in the Pacific and the Predators in the Central.

Calgary Flames at St. Louis Blues (March 25, 7 p.m. ET; CITY, FS-MW, NHL.TV) -- The Flames, whose second-half surge has given them a shot at one of the top three spots in the Pacific Division, finish a three-game road trip with this one against the Blues, who are in their own battle with the Predators for third place in the Central Division.

Los Angeles Kings at Edmonton Oilers (March 28, 9 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-W, NHL.TV) -- The Kings will be in desperation mode when they arrive at Rogers Place, already having lost in Calgary on March 19 and in Edmonton on March 20. The Oilers will be playing their 10th of 11 home games in March.

San Jose Sharks at Edmonton Oilers (March 30, 9 p.m. ET; SNW, CSN-CA, NHL.TV) -- The Oilers finish their home-friendly month with a game that has potential ramifications for first place in the Pacific. The Sharks lead the division by two points over the Anaheim Ducks and four over the Oilers.

Anaheim Ducks at Edmonton Oilers (April 1, 10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, PRIME, NHL.TV) -- Pacific Division playoff seeding and a potential matchup for the Western Conference First Round are sure storylines for this game at Rogers Place.

Anaheim Ducks at Calgary Flames (April 2, 9:30 p.m. ET; SN1, PRIME, NHL.TV) -- After playing the Oilers in Edmonton, the Ducks complete a back-to-back against the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. It's another game with playoff-seeding ramifications and another potential first-round matchup. The Flames and Ducks complete a home-and-home at Anaheim on April 4.

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