Troy Stecher is no stranger to rebuilding teams.
The 28-year-old defenseman started his career with the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks, who went from 30-43-9 in his first season (2016-17) to 36-27-6 in his last (2019-20). From there, he spent nearly two seasons with the also-rebuilding Detroit Red Wings – the club went from 19 wins in his first season to 32 last year – before he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on March 20.
He’s witnessed firsthand what it takes for a franchise to take the next step towards success, and Stecher knows just how difficult that journey can be.
As odd as it may sound, that’s one of the reasons he signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Coyotes on July 13.
“Some people might shy away from that, but for me, I feel like it’s a great opportunity to build a core and grow with that core,” Stecher said. “I think over time you see progress, and that’s always an enjoyable process to go through with a lot of guys that you create relationships with.
“Obviously it’s going to be a challenge, and I look forward to that challenge.”
Stecher has played 359 games in his six-year career, amassing 89 points on 15 goals and 74 assists. It’s his career average of 18:16 for time on ice, though, that Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong had his eye on when he pursued the right-handed shooting blue liner when free agency opened up.
That number is especially important considering the departure of veteran Anton Stralman, who himself chewed up 21:20 of ice time per game last season.
“I think he’s at his best when he is playing big minutes,” Armstrong said. “He’s a D that can play, he’s a minute muncher, and he can go in there and help us and give us some stability from the back side.”
Though he’s coming to a new team, Stecher has worked with a number of Coyotes in the past.
Head coach André Tourigny and Chief Hockey Development Officer Shane Doan both had an opportunity to work with him during the 2020-21 IIHF World Championship, in which Team Canada won a gold medal.
Tourigny, who was an assistant coach on that team, spent a lot of time with Stecher over a three-week timeframe, and they spent a lot of time reviewing the underlying numbers for various situations.
That experience was one that stuck with him.
“I just had a lot of respect for [Tourigny],” Stecher said. “In practice we’d [review] splits, and I enjoyed his splits and what he was teaching. I thought it would be a good opportunity to play for him as head coach because I liked what he presented as an assistant coach.”
Stecher also played with Nick Schmaltz at the University of North Dakota for two seasons. The pair won an NCAA national championship together in 2015-16, and he said Schmaltz was one of the first people he reached out to after signing with the Coyotes.
Schmaltz has spoken highly of the Coyotes organization since his arrival and is a huge proponent of hockey in The Valley.
“There’s a reason why he spends his full offseason there,” Stecher said. “He loves living there, he loves playing there, and he loves the organization.”
Stecher will also meet with defenseman Patrick Nemethwho was acquired from the New York Rangers on July 13. The two played together in Detroit during the 2020-21 season.
The lessons learned from time spent with teams in similar circumstances are likely to go a long way as the Coyotes forge ahead this season. A rebuilding club’s success hinges on its players’ focus on work ethic, consistency, and coachability, and for the players who have already realized their dream of playing in the NHL, what will they do to take the next step in their career?
Stecher hopes to set an example that a strong work ethic can lead to becoming an everyday NHL player.
“When you’re on a rebuilding team, nobody’s job is secure, so it continues to push you every single day amongst the league, and also amongst the team where you have internal battles,” he said. “I think internal battles are extremely important on a rebuilding team because it holds everybody accountable. It pushes everybody to be at their best.
“When you’re at your best, you’re going to take the next step.”
With training camp still a little ways out, Stecher is still enjoying the offseason along with his Bernese Mountain Dog, Phoebe, who is lovably named after the character in ‘Friends.’ Once training camp kicks off, though, he’s well aware of the grind that awaits.
As an NHL veteran that’s learned from some of the game’s best throughout his career, he hopes he can carry that legacy on to the Coyotes’ youngsters.
It starts with leading by example.
“I’ll never take a shift off,” Stecher said. “As an undersized defenseman, undrafted, I’ve always had to prove others wrong, and I don’t take my career for granted. I know how fortunate I am, but at the same time, I definitely put in the work, and that’s something I pride myself on, so I’ll always give 110 percent.”