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He always helps us: Minnesota Wild teammates praise Sam Steele

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When Sam Steele signed with Minnesota Wild This summer, it was seen as the less risky moves that could eventually turn into something decent in the future. I bet no one could have imagined that he would be playing Mats Zuccariello and Kirill Kaprizov on the top line just a few months into the season.

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The 24-year-old center has not previously qualified Anaheim Ducks, which made him an abnormally young unrestricted free agent and he decided to take his talents to St. Paul’s, to try and get to the ceiling where he needed to be, where there was wide open availability right in the middle. Looks like he made the right decision and maybe he should thank the Ducks for not keeping him on the worst team in the league.

Now, he has the pleasure of playing with some of the most dynamic players in the NHL and a primarily third-wheel partnership that has been established as being among the best in the NHL.

But his buddies don’t get behind Steele’s back and acknowledge the talent he must contribute enough to stick around.

“I think it’s really good,” Zuccarillo said. “Quick on pucks, quick, makes plays, reads the play really well. So yeah, he was really good.”

“He always helps us,” Kaprizov said. “He’s very fast. Good player. Very good fights. Great guy. Awesome.”

While Ryan Hartman’s success with this pairing last year should not be forgotten, Steele provides a little extra flexibility and dynamism to this top line, compared to Hartmann playing a north-south where he will get to the front of the net and finish off anything from Kabrizov. And Zuccarello’s creation.

One isn’t better than the other – though Hartmann seems more effective – but it’s just a different approach and we see Steel finally getting on with his buddies after four weeks of being in the front row.

“I think he’s grown up,” said head coach Dean Evason. “I think he just got to know his team-mates, got to know everything, you know. As we talked about him when we decided to put him, there he guarantees that place because he just kept getting better and better. He played wing, he played center, he’s a natural position So, you know, maybe in hindsight we should have put him out there sooner, right? But we tried different things and a different team early on, and you know, luckily, it worked out.”

Under all the goals and aids, it sure works. Steel, Kaprizov, and Zuccarello are in the top four at the Wild when it comes to 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage on the ice (all above 53 percent) and they all sit on top of the prized 50 percent mark when it comes to expected goals percentage on the ice. Overall, the Wild are a better team when these three are on the ice at any given time.

There are no “cheap” targets or easy productions that come from this line. They work all down the court so they can get a bonus in the offensive zone.

For now, it appears to be working, but with the added pressure of Hartmann’s possible return from injury on Sunday, there may be more goals on Steele’s back to produce. Eight points in the 13 games he’s been in the lead is enough to stay there, even with Hartmann back. And the coach agrees.

“I think we’d be silly to break that streak at this point,” Evason said.

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