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Alex Steen was the Toronto Maple Leaf’s first round pick in 2002 – drafted 24th overall. In his first season with the Leafs he scored 18 goals and registered 27 assists – leading to high expectations that he’d progress, blossom and become one of the stalwarts of the Maple Leafs forward lines. It didn’t quite work out that way. His second season with the Leafs saw his production fall slightly – 15 goals and 20 assists – and in his third season he registered 15 goals and 27 assists. Not bad numbers by any means but the Leafs wanted more. Much more. Steen was good defensively but in the beginning seemed to shy away from becoming a real physical presence on the ice. He did become more physical – dishing out good hits and being good on the forecheck but the writing was on the wall in Toronto.
In his final couple of years with the Maple Leafs, Steen was used on checking lines – and in his final games was seeing around 9 minutes of ice time per game. Not easy to be a 30 goal scorer when you’re only on the ice for 9 minutes a game. Interesting things then started to happen when Steen was traded to the Blues along with Carlo Colaiacovo in exchange for Lee Stempniak. Stempniak was a fan favourite in St Louis and the trade pretty much came out of left field and shocked everyone. At first, it seemed that the deal was ostensively for Colaiacovo and that Steen was the “makeweight” in the deal. For Steen, that didn’t matter – it was an opportunity – a fresh start for him and he grabbed it with both hands. In the 2008/2009 season, Steen again played mainly on the third and fourth lines – registering 6 goals and 19 assists. He worked hard – never afraid to hit or shoot and subsequently saw time on the powerplay and penalty kill units.
Four games into the current season and Steen is averaging around 16 minutes of ice time per game with a team leading 14 shots on goal – he’s on a line with Jay McClement and BJ Crombeen – a line that some would say has been the Blues best performing line so far. Usually facing off aginst the opposing team’s top line, Steen, McClement and Crombeen have become a good shutdown defensive line that still provides a very real offensive threat. One of Alex Steen’s key abilities is his versatility. You can play him on any line and he wouldn’t be out of place. He also has a layer of unpredictability that keeps opponents guessing – he’s just as likely to play a perfect, defense splitting pass as he is to jink his way past players and score himself. For example, take a look at this:
What you don’t see – because this kind of thing is never put on youtube – is Steen’s sheer hard work, forechecking and great defense. He is now – to use a cricketing term – a very good all-rounder. He’ll rarely be a healthy scratch – he’s found his niche with the Blues, links up extremely well with his linemates and has become a valued member of a talented Blues team.
In Toronto, Steen seemed stifled by expectations. In St Louis, where the expectations on him weren’t so great, Steen has flourished. Let’s hope he continues to do so.
Oh and Toronto? If you have any more former first round picks you’d like to dispose of, then just give the Blues a call…