NEWARK, N.J. -- The possibility of being traded had never occurred to David Steckel.
Sure, Steckel was well-aware of the Washington Capitals’ interest in Jason Arnott. He just didn’t think he’d be the player on the other end of the deal -- until 3:20 p.m. EST.
Exactly 20 minutes after Monday’s NHL trade deadline expired, Steckel found out he’d been dealt by the Capitals to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Arnott.
“It was unexpected,” Steckel said after Tuesday morning’s practice, his first with his new team. “I knew we were probably going to make a playoff for Arnott, but when the call came at 3:20, I didn’t think it was going to be me on the other end of that.”
Ironically, Steckel had been pulled out Capitals‘ practice on Monday morning. However, it wasn’t because he was on the verge of being traded -- yet.
“We were even joking with the trainer about that, ‘Yeah, Stecksie got traded,’” said Steckel, who came off the ice after tweaking something, which he claims is fine now. “But really nobody had thought it was going to be me. It had nothing to do with it. I didn’t find out until after 3:20 after the trade was actually done.”
In Steckel, the Devils are getting a 6-foot-5, 217-pound center who leads the NHL in faceoff percentage (63.7). The 28-year-old, who is signed through 2012-13 at an annual cap hit of $1.1 million, recorded five goals and six assists in 57 games for the Capitals this season.
“To be honest, I don’t know how I’m going to fit in here,” Steckel said. “But for me it’s about winning faceoffs to control the puck and being a two-way player out there on the positive side every time I can be. Just getting in deep, cycling and getting to the net.”
Steckel practiced with on the Devils’ checking line with wingers David Clarkson and Vladimir Zharkov.
Interim coach Jacques Lemaire, who said Steckel should see time on the penalty-kiling unit as well, believes he still needs to get acclimated with the Devils’ style of hockey and their system.
“I could tell that he’s not himself right now the first day you get traded,” Lemaire said. “But from what I can see, he understands the game well. It looks like in his own zone he’ll be able to do a good job defensively. He’s got a good shot, gets it on net and he’s strong on the puck.”
After Wednesday's morning skate, however, Lemaire noticed a change in Steckel and said he looked to be more comfortable.
"I was really nervous," Steckel said. "It's my first trade."
Steckel knows it’s going to be an uphill battle for the Devils to make the playoffs.
Despite going 17-2-2 in its last 21 games, New Jersey trails the Carolina Hurricanes by 11 points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 20 games remaining.
Still, he’s ready for the challenge.
“I’ve been in that position before, three years ago with Washington,” Steckel said. “We were in that exact same position throughout most of the year, and we made a run toward the playoffs. It kind of catapulted the organization for a couple of years.”
Steckel, who will sport Arnott’s old No. 25 on his jersey, is set to make his debut on Wednesday night in another pivotal, must-win game for the Devils against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Prudential Center.
On Friday night, the Lightning beat the Devils, 2-1, snapping New Jersey’s eight-game winning streak. The Devils, though, will be looking to start up another one after beating the Florida Panthers by that same score on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Steckel said. “It’s pretty exciting for me actually. I can’t say enough about what I’ve heard about this organization. I’m excited to be here.”