ANAHEIM >> The journey from prospect to player in the NHL often can be a winding one, few paths remaining as straight and uninterrupted as the blue line.
For every Cam Fowler, who was a draftee one day and - three months later - a Duck, there are scores of players who go from Point A to Point B only after stops at several other letters in the alphabet.
Then there are the paths of Sam Steel and Josh Mahura, a pair of potential future Ducks whose respective journeys continue to intertwine like the strands of a rope.
This tale is truly twisted, just not in a bad way. This one instead is twisted in a way that could prove to be the sweetest of all, as if that rope were made of licorice.
Having started out together as children, these two still-teenagers appear destined to one day reach the Ducks and to do so, if the hockey gods have any sense of what’s appropriate, in tandem.
“It is a little weird,” Steel, 19, said this week at the conclusion of the team’s development camp. “At the same time, it just shows we’re both working hard to get better and better.”
Added Mahura, also 19: “It’s almost like we’re trying to follow each other around here. But anytime I get to be on the ice with him and in the locker room with him it’s a lot of fun.”
I first wrote about these two in September, when both were with the Ducks in training camp.
That column detailed how they had grown up in neighboring towns near Edmonton, how they had attended some of the same youth camps and how they still skate together in the offseason.
Initially opponents, the duo first became teammates so long ago that neither can remember the exact year though both figure it was sometime around age 10.
In 2016, the Ducks drafted Steel with the 30th selection overall. Fifty-five picks later, they took Mahura, who texted Steel with the news faster than it takes to kill a minor penalty.
Both players then resumed their careers in the Western Hockey League, Steel with Regina and Mahura with Red Deer.
On the day of the WHL trade deadline in January, Steel walked into the office of the team’s trainer and noticed a small piece of paper that featured the news of a deal.
In need of a quality defenseman, Regina had just traded for Mahura, Steel aware of his buddy’s fate before Mahura even had been told by Red Deer’s management.
“The trainer covered it up quick, but then he told me about it after,” Steel said. “I had to keep my mouth shut for an hour or two. I couldn’t leak it.”
So, nine years after first becoming teammates, they’ve been thrown together again, one of their next shared stops figuring to be Ducks training camp in the fall.
Once in Regina, Mahura finished off a solid season, while Steel was concluding a spectacular one.
He led the league with 131 points and was third with 50 goals, all that production coming in only 66 games. That’s an average of nearly two points, a pace some NBA players struggle to keep.
The performance - Steel finished plus-49 - was overwhelming to the point where he was asked this week if he had become too good for the WHL, a suggestion the gifted center dismissed.
Rather, he credited his linemates and teammates, an atypical hockey player taking the stance of a typical hockey player, Steel humbly noting that Regina was good enough to dominate the regular season before losing in the finals.
“He’s unreadable,” Mahura said of his friend. “You never know what he’s going to do. You think you got a guy covered and all of a sudden the puck’s in the back of your net. He’s pretty good at everything.”
Regina coach John Paddock called Steel “a franchise player” and wondered how he could have been still available on draft night when the Ducks took him with the final pick of the first round.
Asked for a possible explanation, Paddock said of the NHL’s decision-makers, “They didn’t listen.”
When Steel was left off the roster for Canada’s most recent world junior team those reacting publicly in bewildered disbelief included Don Cherry, who isn’t the face of Canadian hockey but might be the voice.
On his “Coach’s Corner” segment on Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry mockingly asked, “How do you miss a guy like that?”
The question was a rhetorical one, meaning it wasn’t intended to be answered. Not that anyone had a satisfactory answer anyway.
Steel wasn’t interested this week in revisiting his exclusion from the world team, explaining that pondering “negative stuff” served no purpose.
Instead, he remains content pursuing a future with the Ducks, a future that might one day be highlighted by two childhood pals who’ve shared so much already reaching their dream together.
And wouldn’t that be sweet?