How Troy Stecher will benefit from the World Hockey Championships

KOSICE, SLOVAKIA - MAY 16: Troy Stecher #51 of Canada controls the puck during the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia group A game between Canada and France at Steel Arena on May 16, 2019 in Kosice, Slovakia. (Photo by Lukasz Laskowski/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images)
KOSICE, SLOVAKIA - MAY 16: Troy Stecher #51 of Canada controls the puck during the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Slovakia group A game between Canada and France at Steel Arena on May 16, 2019 in Kosice, Slovakia. (Photo by Lukasz Laskowski/PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images) /

Team Canada has won silver at the 2019 World Hockey Championships following a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Finns in Sunday’s Gold Medal Game. The tournament was a great experience for Vancouver Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher.

For the next few months at least, Canadian hockey fans will be discussing the performance of a Canadian squad that was not favoured to defeat many of the tournament favourites, let alone a powerful Russian team loaded with NHL stars. The Canadians were carried by exceptional performances from the likes of Mark Stone, Anthony Mantha, and Matt Murray, but fans of the Vancouver Canucks were invested in Troy Stecher, who has quietly had an excellent tournament.

Many Canucks fans know Stecher’s story. He went undrafted before playing college hockey for the University of North Dakota with Canucks teammate Brock Boeser. A Richmond, BC native, Stecher signed an entry level contract in 2016 with his hometown Canucks. Most expected him to become a career AHLer, but Stecher played his way onto the big team instead and has become one of the Canucks’ best, most efficient, defenders since. At no point in that time did he get the opportunity to represent his country internationally.

It’s fair to say that Stecher has always wanted to wear the red, white, and black. In interviews following his addition to the Canadian team, the young Canuck said that it was his dream, and that when he was asked to play, it was an instant yes. Hockey Canada’s choice of Stecher for was no surprise to followers of the Canucks, who have watched his progression into one of the team’s top defenceman over the past few years. He has become known for his effort and drive in chasing down opposing forwards to keep his team in control of the puck. However, his talent has gained little recognition outside of British Columbia.

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All evidence points to Team Canada’s management not being aware of what they had in Stecher. Head Coach and former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault had Stecher deployed on Canada’s third defensive pairing behind Brandon Montour and Damon Severson, with little expectation of dominance. However, in a matter of games, Troy from Richmond had been moved to the top pairing, playing alongside Ottawa defenceman Thomas Chabot. His skill and effort became clear very quickly, and his deployment improved as the tournament carried on, to the benefit of not only Canada, but Stecher himself and the Canucks as well.

It was clear to anyone familiar with Stecher’s play who watched Canada’s games that he was improving throughout. Canada’s semi-final contest against the Czech Republic may have been his best game of the tournament, in which he got an assist and finished as a plus-three. The assist came on a play that perfectly demonstrates how Stecher is developing into the defenceman that the Canucks desperately need.

On the opening goal of the game, just minutes into the first period, Stecher receives a pass around the Czech blueline and carries the puck into the zone, cutting around the Czech defence before sending a shot-pass towards the front of the net, which Stone redirects into the net. It seems like such a normal goal, but the way that Stecher enters the offensive zone was a quality that the Canucks saw very little of during the 2018-19 season, outside of Quinn Hughes’ five games at the end of the campaign. Any good team has a defence that can perform quality zone entries. Hughes will improve that fact, but he cannot do it alone, and if Stecher can continue to develop that ability like he has in Slovakia, all the better.

This play also demonstrates how his offensive instincts have improved throughout the tournament. The way that Stecher carries the puck to a position from which he can pass to Stone is not a highlight reel play, but his puck control and offensive vision serve as an example of the style of an elite two-way defenceman. I was struck by another Stecher moment in the dying seconds of the semi-final.

Unfortunately, I don’t have video footage, with the Canadians up by four goals and the Czechs unable to come back, the game’s momentum was gone. Nonetheless, Stecher ended up in the corner with the puck and two Czech players came at him. Rather than get it, he managed to deke the puck several times to get it out of danger. While not Elias Pettersson-calibre dekes, we can see that Stecher is learning to play the offensive game that makes Dekey Pete or Hughes so potent.

Part of Stecher’s WHC success can most likely be attributed to him finally playing on a truly elite line. Apart from being paired with Chabot, he played behind a forward line of Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, and Pierre-Luc Dubois. He even played a little bit on Canada’s top power play unit with those same players. Stecher did spend time this season playing behind Pettersson and Boeser, but never consistently. More often than not, he was backing up the Jay Beagles and Loui Erikssons. Stecher’s ability to perform with the elites is becoming clear, so he would be best served in a consistent role with the Canucks’ top line next season.

Props must be given to Vigneault, whose tendency to roll consistent lines has most likely had an effect as well. Stecher has spent more time than he is used to playing with the same players, and likely developed more chemistry with those same players than he has before. Vigneault’s coaching style was always one of tough love when he coached the Canucks. Players that put in the work get rewarded, and as a result, the Canucks saw Alex Edler and Chris Tanev develop into top defenders under his watch. Stecher experienced the same principles in Slovakia and has clearly benefitted.

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Whatever the reason, playing at the World Championships has undeniably improved Stecher’s play. If he can use what’s he has learned to turn an offensive corner next season, immediate improvements to the Canucks defence will follow. The Canucks clearly value Stecher as part of their future defence. In the end of season press briefings, the first group to players to speak with the media was the core four: Pettersson, Boeser, Bo Horvat, and Stecher. His role will be crucial, and thanks to this tournament, we can see that an elite young defensive pairing of Stecher and Hughes is coming and will be very effective.