-- It's back to school night for the newest New Jersey Devils
center, David Steckel
For the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Steckel, who was traded by the Washington Capitals
on Monday in exchange for Jason Arnott
and a 2012 second-round draft pick, there's some anxiousness and nervousness as he prepares for his first game in a Devils sweater on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning
at Prudential Center.
Now in his fifth NHL season, this is the first time the 28-year-old center has been traded in his career, so there were some butterflies as he sat on the bench answering questions in front of his stall following his second practice.
He'll likely center a line with David Clarkson
and Vladimir Zharkov
to open the game.
"It's like the first day of school," Steckel said. "I'm sure I'm going to be nervous tonight, but the good news is it's a pretty familiar team (Lightning) so it doesn't matter what sweater you're wearing. I'm going to go out and play to the best of my ability and do what I do."
Steckel, of course, is a defensive specialist. He excels on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle and will basically do anything asked of him when push comes to shove.
"It's a pretty smart coaching staff here in Jersey, so I don't think I'll have to worry about telling them anything new about the Tampa Bay Lightning
," Steckel said. "I like what they do here and I'm just going to sit in my bush. If anyone asks, I'll offer, but until then I don't want to rattle anything. Especially with my 291 career games played."
A former first-round draft pick (No. 30) by Los Angeles in 2001, Steckel played for the Kings' minor league affiliate in Manchester, N.H., before being signed by the Washington Capitals
in August 2005. The signing was actually a recommendation made by Caps coach Bruce Boudreau
, who had coached Steckel with the Monarchs. Boudreau had been hired as Hershey's coach earlier that summer.
Really, Steckel doesn't see much of a difference between the coaching philosophies of Devils coach Jacques Lemaire
"It's not hugely different," he said. "For everything that's written about Bruce being an offensive coach, he stresses defensive responsibility just as much as Jacques. There's a tweak here or there, but it won't be anything too difficult to pick up."
Lemaire just wants Steckel to play his game.
"It's good if he wants to do more, but the thing is, he's got to stay with it and play within his game," Lemaire said. "Just do what he's good at and what he's capable of doing and not doing all kinds of stuff to try and impress. Play hard and he'll be fine."
Steckel joins the Devils having produced 5 goals and 6 assists in 57 games with the Capitals this season. His forte, however, is within the faceoff circle as he's ranked among the top seven on draws the last four seasons -- besting his percentage of the previous season each time.
He's first in the League this year with a 63.7 (427 of 670) percentage. Last year, he was second at 59.2 percent. He was fifth (57.9 percent) in 2008-09, and tied for seventh (56.3 percent) in 2007-08.
Steckel credits his time with the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., for turning him into the monster he's become on faceoffs.
"It started in junior playing for Team USA," Steckel told NHL.com. "I remember Bob Mancini having a big impact. We were doing one drill and I won the draw, but I let the man go to the net. Bob ended up giving me a little lecture and I remember that to this day. It's become something I pride myself on. Bob said if you're going to be in the NHL for a while, you need to do something that other people don't, and do it well. I'm so happy it's faceoffs."
Clarkson is looking forward to having Steckel in the lineup on Wednesday.
"I think he'll be fine," Clarkson told NHL.com. "In practice, he showed some things he'll be able to do. He'll help our penalty-kill quite a bit and he's one of the better faceoff guys in the NHL for a reason. So I believe all those things will help us, as a team, get better and he seems like a great guy."
Steckel appeared rather relieved not having to worry about finding a way to break through New Jersey's tight-checking scheme from this point forward.
"They're a very patient team and (in Washington) we were kind of go, go, go against them," Steckel said. "If you turn the puck over, it's going the other way. They'll outwork you down low and if you don't wear your boots in your own zone, you're going to get outworked and they'll get great chances.
Hopefully, knowing a little bit about them, I can bring the same characteristics."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale