Continuing on with our #AfterAuston series, we have another prospect who almost assuredly will be around for the Leafs to make a decision on when they pick at 30 and 31.
In most rankings, Sam Steel has been slotted just beyond the first round, but the WHL product might be worthy of consideration for one of those two picks the Leafs currently hold.
Steel isn’t a big prospect, listed at just 5’11 and 178 pounds, but he is a skilled center who gets a lot of credit for his smarts and playmaking ability. There’s been some knocking on his consistency over this past season, and his production from his rookie season to draft-eligible didn’t take a huge step forward, but he’s certainly one of the best WHL centers available.
Future Considerations ranked Steel at 35th in their final draft guide, having this to say about his skillset:
Steel is a high-IQ, zero-hesitation, puck possessor who thinks at a high level and elevates his teammates’ play. He is noticeably one of the smoothest and skilled passers available in this draft…
Being pushed to the perimeter due to his lack of size is probably the most notable weakness in a lot of scouting reports on Steel, which obviously throws up a flag about whether he can translate to the pro game. But in terms of tools, it looks as though he’s as gifted as anyone else slated to go near the end of the first round or early second.
ESPN’s Corey Pronman ranked Steel 29th in his final pre-draft list, which looks to be the highest he’s been rated from the major outlets this late in the game.
…He can play the game with a quick tempo and shows the ability to make defenders miss with his feet and hands, while also showing the vision to create for others. Steel is not one-dimensional, and he has shown decent defensive prowess by being an effective penalty killer for his junior team and for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.
That ability to control the puck well at high speed makes Steel a player whose strength is through the neutral zone, which makes him a good option for pushing the puck in the right direction. Working on being more aggressive and establishing himself in the offensive zone will have to be a priority going forward.
Steel ranked fifth in The Dub in points-per-game for draft-eligibles this year, ahead of some more locked-in first round targets like Brett Howden and Tyler Benson, who we’ve already profiled. Perhaps the only concern about his production is that, like we mentioned above, he didn’t take a major step forward from his rookie season to this past one, only going from 0.89 to 0.97 points-per-game. But maybe that’s just more of a testament to how well he performed in his first year.
Steel has been all over the place in pre-draft rankings, with Future Considerations having him 35th on their final list, Pronman slotting him at 29th in the ESPN top 100, and the Hockey Prospect Black Book with him all the way down at 55th.
It’s also worth noting Steel was more highly-touted prior to the season, nearly cracking Bob McKenzie’s top 15 list in September. So he’s taken a tumble.
Should the Leafs be interested?
Suddenly the Leafs aren’t hurting for center depth as much as they once were (if we’re including Matthews), but Steel is likely a longer term prospect so he wouldn’t factor in for a while anyway.
Given his places in the pre-draft rankings, taking Steel at 30th or 31st would probably seem like a reach. Toronto has two more picks not too much further down the line at 57th and 62nd, so there’s a chance, albeit small, that he could be kicking around there. Overall his skillset aligns with what the Leafs want to keep feeding into the system, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they’ve been looking at him. “High hockey IQ” and top end vision isn’t exactly teachable.