International Ice Hockey Federation

Steen making a name

Steen making a name

Swedish forward poised to become a fixture

Published 11.02.2014 20:57 GMT+4 | Author Ryan O'Leary
Steen making a name
Alexander Steen will play his first Olympic Winter Games and hopes to become a household name. Photo: Jani Rajamaki / HHOF-IIHF Images
When the Blues placed Alexander Steen on injured reserve on December 21 due to concussion, you could almost hear an audible gasp in St. Louis and Sweden.

Not this player. Not now.

Steen ranked second in the NHL with 24 goals – already matching his career high through just 35 games – when he was forced to sit out for an indefinite spell.

Given the nature of concussion injuries, the near future for the Blues’ newfound offensive weapon seemed precarious at best – threatening his opportunity to represent Sweden for the first time at the Olympics.

But mercifully, Steen’s concussion symptoms subsided and he returned to the lineup after missing a total of 11 games.

It’s as if Steen never missed any time, notching seven points in his first eight games back from injury, continuing his assault on his previous high of 51 points recorded during the 2010/2011 NHL season.

So, who is this Alexander Steen? And, maybe more importantly, how has he evolved into one of the NHL’s top goal scorers and a key cog in Tre Kronor’s attempt at a third Olympic gold medal?

If you ask Gary Agnew – Ken Hitchcock’s assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues and the power play coordinator – Steen has always garnered the respect of the league, but now his numbers are matching his talent.

“In the NHL’s inner circles, everyone knows Alex,” Agnew said. “Now he’s finally in the forefront, especially to fans in the Eastern Conference. More and more people are taking notice of his talents.”

And, Agnew says Steen is becoming more of a target in the opposition’s game

“Teams are circling Alex on the board, and keeping him in check on the ice. He’s definitely recognizable across the league and amongst its fans.”

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When asked about the impetus for his recent success, Steen responds with textbook Swedish humility – opting to deflect much of the attention away from himself – saying, “I haven’t changed anything really, I’m just continually growing as a player and as a person. The older you get, the more mature you get, and I’m benefiting from that growth.”

Steen plays in all situations for the Blues from the power play to even strength to the penalty kill – which happens to be one of the top five units in the NHL.

According to Agnew, it’s no secret why Steen leads all Blues forwards in ice-time at 20:46 per game.

“He’s extremely capable of playing in all three situations. The guy has such incredible hockey instinct and awareness. We’re comfortable putting him up front or at the point on the power play,” said Agnew.

“His mantra is to fill in no matter what the situation and his knowledge of the power play helps him on the penalty kill and vice-versa.”

Steen is sitting on a plus-14 rating, an incredible number for a guy logging so many minutes.

Again, in typical fashion, Steen thanks his team for the increased performance.

“We’re heavy and we play physical. We’re super resilient for all 60 minutes of hockey,” said Steen. “We’ve grown together as a group for the last few years and grown in playoff battles. That’s why we’ve found so much success this season.”

The soon to be 30-year-old’s impact isn’t confined to just his personal numbers. A quick scan of his teammates’ increased performance points to the spark he gives the Blues.

T.J. Oshie and David Backes – both American Olympians thanks in small part to their partnership with Steen – are both on pace to eclipse their previous career-highs in points for a season.

Oh, and the three players rank as the top three point producers on the team.

This season presented a separate challenge for Alex, given that his contract was set to expire at year’s end. Steen, who has spent the last six NHL season with the Blues after being traded from Toronto in 2008-09, potentially had to face the uncertainty of free agency.

It should come as no surprise the Blues signed the winger to a three-year, $17M extension in December.

“The Blues organization has invested a lot in me. They brought me here, supported me and put me in a wonderful community. It was very important for me to stay in St. Louis,” Steen said of his new deal.

Agnew shares those sentiments, saying you can’t underestimate the importance of their alternate captain.

“He’s such a valuable asset to our team. You want the best players you can have and he’s one of the best. The contract extension was great for us, and a relief for him. He’d be a tough guy to replace if we lost him.”

Given what a revelation Steen has been to the Blues, it’s also no wonder Par Marts and the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation chose him for their 25-man roster in Sochi.

“Alex has always been a talented player. This season he found a way of playing where he got the most out of his ability. He can play all roles out on the ice,” said Swedish head coach Par Marts.

“Except as goalie,” Marts said jokingly. But, he is serious about his belief in Steen.

“I am not surprised at all at the season Alex is having. He has always had this talent,” he added.

“I also think it was good for him to play for MODO [a team in the Swedish Elite League home to the likes of the Sedins and Peter Forsberg] during the lockout last season. I think it was important for him to play on the big ice surface in preparation for Sochi.”

Steen will bring a critical element of physicality and toughness to a Swedish team known more for its finesse – save for a Niklas Kronwall – and less for its bang. That “heavy play” as Steen describes it could be the difference in Sweden overcoming a very disappointing.

For Steen, the player who grew up in the shadow of his legendary father, Thomas Steen, the Olympics are a dream come true.

“The Olympics are a big experience, something I dreamt about growing up,” Steen said excitedly. “Every kid dreams of the NHL and playing for his country. It’s the biggest tournament with the best players involved.”

Prior to 2014, Steen had only represented Sweden at the 2007 IIHF World Championship and various junior tournaments. Meanwhile, his father was a fixture on several World Championship squads, winning a silver medal in 1981 and 1985.

Thomas Steen is also considered one of the greatest Winnipeg Jets of all-time with the organization retiring his number in 1995.

“Sweden takes a lot of pride in their athletes and their athletics and show a ton of support when these large events happen,” Steen boasted.

Given Sweden’s favorable chances to win a third Olympic gold medal in Sochi, Steen and the rest of his Tre Kronor teammates could be the nation’s pride for years to come.

That would be only fitting given the year Steen is having.


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