(HockeyStL) -- Blues forward Alex Steen is off to a hot start this season. So hot, that it is somewhat hard to believe. The winger has spent eight seasons in the National Hockey League, and has never been as dominant as he has to start this year.
Steen has started the season with 15 points, 10 goals, in nine games. His most successful goal-scoring season netted him 24 goals in the 2009-10 campaign. But Steen is on pace to score more this season than he ever has before.
Steen, 29, has been with the Blues since the 2008-09 season. In six seasons with the club, he has been asked to fill a variety of roles. As recently as last season, Steen was fulfilling the role of a centerman, because the Blues lacked depth at that position. On the power play, Steen takes on a position similar to that of a defenseman’s, setting up at the blue line and firing shots on goal. He’s always adjusted to whatever tasks the Blues have assigned him, but never has he felt as comfortable as he does this year on a line with T.J. Oshie and David Backes.
“(Steen) is able to absorb whatever role we give him,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said in an interview posted on the Blues’ website. “We are all happy with his offensive numbers, but we are more happy with how his game has evolved.”
“Nothing is really that different (this season),” Steen said in an interview posted on the Blues’ website. “Puck has been going in, obviously, but I’ve been playing on the same line with Oshie and Backes the whole year, so far. I’ve really been benefitting from their hard work. The three of us really complement each other. We have been talking about it for the last couple of weeks. The three of us enjoy working hard and help each other.”
Backes, whose six goals are good for second most on the team, behind Steen’s 10, centers Steen’s line. Steen fills the role of left-wing, and the chemistry between him, Backes, and Oshie, is impeccable.
“We get in (to the defensive zone) and talk and then get out clean and then come onto the attack,” said Steen when asked to talk about the line’s success. “Backes has won a lot of key face offs so we can bring our offensive zone pressure. Other lines leave us in good situations so we aren’t always starting in our own zone. A lot of that stuff is what has been creating the success, not just for me personally, but for the team.”
The line has contributed to a lot of the team’s early success with 36 points; Steen has 15 of those. He is undoubtedly the team’s biggest spark early, but there’s no doubt the line, as a whole is playing at the highest level as a unit.
“We don’t need that line to score to win all the time,” said Hitchcock. “But we need it to be effective in whatever role we give them. “
Steen, though he won’t take credit for it, has certainly led the Blues in the first nine games of the season. His fast start is noteworthy because there haven’t been many like it. Steen is the first Blue since Scott Young in 2000-01 to reach double-digits in goals in the team’s first nine games of a season. He is tied with Brett Hull for the second-fastest start in Blues history. Currently, Steen is tied with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin for the league-lead in goals. Steen doesn’t like the comparison because Ovechkin has been a consistent scorer for many seasons.
"It's only nine games," he said. "(Ovechkin's) been doing it for years. I've been doing it for nine games."
However, Steen’s overall game is seen as better than Ovechkin’s. His all-around game has looked very sharp this year. This observation is validated by his plus/minus rating of plus-seven. Only Oshie and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester have a higher rating so far. As Hitchcock said, it is about more than the goal total with Steen.
“Everyone is talking about the offensive numbers,” he said. “I don’t think that is as relevant. This is just the evolution of a complete player. He has a good conscience for the game, he sees the game properly, he understands 200 feet offensively and defensively, he gets the idea of proper positioning with pressure.”
Steen is in the final year of a four-year, $13.45 million contract, which he signed with the Blues in 2010. He becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season, and the Blues are extremely interested in re-signing Steen before he hits the market. Contract negotiations should get underway relatively quickly with Steen playing the way he has. His play will earn him a hefty raise and the Blues would be crazy not to re-sign him.
“He has become the collective conscience of our hockey club,” said Hitchcock. “Off the ice, on the ice, in the weight room, anywhere, he is a guy that all the younger guys follow because of the emphasis he puts on conditioning during the season. He pushes the rest of the group to a whole new level.”