Steen Humble Despite Great Start
ST. LOUIS -- There are certain players in today's NHL who just resonate by the mere mention of their names: Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Zdeno Chara, Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Henrik Lundqvist to name a few.
These are players who are known all over the world, and rightfully so.
Then there are those under-the-radar sort of players who make their living doing what's necessary and reaping the rewards within their own team and fan base.
Mention the name Alexander Steen and it garners respect, but it's not a name people would categorize among League leaders in offensive output.
The St. Louis Blues know what they have in Steen. Through the team's first nine games of the 2013-14 season, the 29-year-old Winnipeg native, known for a well-rounded game, has served notice that he also brings offensive touch and creativity to the ice.
To call Steen humble would be the same as hitting the nail right on the head. Steen doesn't ask for the headlines, doesn't crave attention. He simply goes about his business and continuously does what's necessary to help his team win, doing so while floating under that proverbial radar.
"But it's kind of nice," teammate Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Hopefully teams underestimate him a little bit. I think that's quickly starting to lose its power."
Linemate T.J. Oshie agreed.
"I've been saying it for three or four years now, that Steener's one of the most underrated guys," Oshie said. "People are starting to recognize what he can do on the ice."
Most players would revel in the fact that they would be mentioned in the same breath as Ovechkin. The Washington Capitals' captain is consistently near the top in all NHL scoring categories.
Not Steen, who doesn't feel like it's warranted. Not yet anyway.
At each question posed to Steen after scoring twice Saturday night in a 6-1 win against the Nashville Predators that matched him with Ovechkin's NHL-leading 10 goals, Steen would stop the question in its tracks.
The simple message? Relax.
First, it was comparisons with Ovechkin. Then it was comparisons to former Blues great Brett Hull.
"I don't think we should be comparing myself to Brett Hull," Steen said. "[Ovechkin's] been doing this for years. I've been doing it for nine games."
Yes, it has only been nine games and it can change in a flash, but Steen is on a pace not seen in St. Louis since Scott Young scored 10 goals in nine games during the 2000-01 season. Hull did it twice (1989-90 and 1990-91). Brian Sutter holds the franchise record with 10 goals in eight games, accomplished in the 1978-79 season, but Steen is the first Blues player to record 15 points through the team's first nine games since Kevin Miller did so in 1993.
Steen has played three fewer games than Ovechkin, and prior to the Capitals' game Monday against the Vancouver Canucks, Steen scored his 10 goals with 46 fewer shots [72-26].
Humbling? Perhaps to Steen -- not that there appears to be a need for him to be humbled -- but not to his teammates and to his coach.
"To me, Alex's confidence comes from his preparation, his commitment to conditioning," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's a perfect example of a player that's been diligent at making himself better. I think he's just a great example of what happens when you put your best foot forward work-wise, conditioning-wise. I think he said it best: He feels like he's fresh on the ice. When you're fresh, you're confident, and that's how he feels right now.
"When you have a competitive level like Alexander does and you have hockey sense like he does, that's elite. He's an elite player. He's a heck of a hockey player. Smart, competitive, plays the game the right way, sees the game the right way. He's a very smart player. Big asset for us."
Added Blues captain and fellow linemate David Backes: "Steener is as confident as anyone right now, and he seems to be on fire. ... He's got a level of confidence, he's always got a great shot, but I think he's got that feeling to just get it in the net. The way he's firing that thing, it's tough for goalies to see. With his skill set and his work ethic, he's tough to play against. He's getting a ton of chances every game, and he's finding the back of the net and it's great to watch.
"He's got the confidence that he can go out and dominate any game and rightfully so, because he's that good."
Steen, whose father, Thomas Steen, had a terrific 14-year career with the Winnipeg Jets (950 games, 264 goals and 817 points), has been one-third of the Blues' top line, with Backes and Oshie, and the line is on fire. The trio has accounted for 53 percent of the Blues' 34 goals.
Steen calls the continuity and togetherness of his linemates on and off the ice the key to his success.
"To be honest, it's been a big part of why I feel comfortable and confident," Steen said. "Not moving around as much as I have been in the past. I'm enjoying playing with those two. They work extremely hard. It's been a pleasure for me to play with those two.
"I think we're three hardworking guys. ... We've been working hard, trying to do the simple things. Read off each other. I think right now it's been a lot of inspiration."
Steen's humble attitude shines through in the high praise he constantly bestows on his teammates. His success only comes with their help, he says.
"A lot of it is what we're about in here," Steen said referring to the locker room. "It's team stuff. My first goal, against Nashville in the first game of the season, there's no way that goes in if [Chris Stewart] isn't there. [Saturday, it's the] same thing on the first shot. There's no way that goes in. Too far out to beat [Predators goalie Carter Hutton] with a wrister unless Stew takes away his eyes. Osh's efforts on the forecheck, Backs' reads, hits and everything is what's causing all these situations for me. That's what we're about in here."
Steen, acquired by the Blues from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 along with Carlo Colaiacovo for Lee Stempniak, is in the fourth and final year his contract. He might not get the kind of lucrative contract on his next deal the Ovechkins and Crosbys and those megastars have, but if Steen continues to contribute in ways the Blues need him to, he'll be paid handsomely by the team that covets him most: The one he plays for now and one he appreciates and feels comfortable playing for most.
"I never set (a) number (on) goals. I want a lot of responsibility," Steen said. "If I feel like I'm relied on, that's what I play for, feeling like I'm doing something for the team."