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Steen emerges from father's shadow to forge own identity

by Dan Rosen

Alex Steen developed his versatile hockey sense by tagging along through his father’s career.
Alex Steen figures if they’re flattering, why run from them? So, instead of shying away from the comparisons that have followed him since he first laced up his own skates, the Toronto Maple Leafs forward embraces the link he has to his famous father.

“He had a 14-year career in the NHL,” Steen, whose father, Thomas, scored 817 points in 950 games with the Winnipeg Jets from 1981-95, told “If you get compared to a guy who has 14 years in the NHL, isn’t it a positive thing?”

Absolutely, but it’s even better if you find your own personality in the process.

While Steen isn’t even close to matching his dad’s accomplishments, the 23-year-old has found his own way to thrive in the NHL by being a versatile threat for the Maple Leafs, someone who can prosper on the top line with Mats Sundin, as he did as a rookie when he scored 18 goals, or the checking line, as he is now.

”When you play against other teams’ top lines, the first priority is to make sure they don’t score,” Steen said. “When you get the chances you want to take advantage of them, but you’re not going to get as many chances. It’s nothing that I think about or worry about. I take a great deal of pride in knowing the guys in the room think we’re doing a big job contributing to the wins.”

Steen developed his versatile hockey sense by tagging along through his father’s career.

He was born into the game as the son of the fan favorite in Winnipeg, where he was afforded a unique look inside an NHL dressing room. He says being around the Jets as a kid motivated him in his pursuit of a career in hockey as an adult.

“It was special,” Steen said. “I got some opportunities other kids didn’t have.”

When he was 12 and his father was finished with the Jets, the family moved to Germany, where Thomas Steen continued his career for four more years. The transition was difficult. The youth hockey in Germany clearly wasn’t as advanced as it was in Winnipeg. And there was a massive language barrier to overcome in school and on the ice.

”It was a hard time,” Steen said. “I didn’t know a word of German. The kids over there were too young to speak English. I was by myself a lot.”

When Thomas Steen hung up the skates for good, the family moved home to Sweden, where Alex’s talent as a two-way threat began to blossom. He wove his way through the Swedish Elite League, playing four seasons there until 2005. Steen also played for Sweden in the World Junior Championships in 2003 and 2004, scoring six goals in a combined 12 games.

Steen, Toronto’s first-round draft pick in 2002, made the Leafs’ roster in 2005 and promptly broke out with 18 goals, half on the power play, and 27 assists in 75 games. He was ninth among rookie scorers, and 10th among rookies with his nine power-play tallies.

The comparisons to his father quickly turned up, this time in North America.

“It was a breakthrough situation so people were comparing me to my father,” Steen said. “It was a little flattering.”

Even as a rookie, when Steen was one of the Leafs’ top power-play guys, he proved to be a true three-way threat as one of their top penalty killers.

Steen’s offense, though, was a bit uncharacteristic when considering his past. He scored only 24 goals in 169 Swedish Elite League games. So when his production dipped by 10 points last season, he felt pressure from Toronto fans and media to answer questions as to why. More questions came earlier this season when he suffered through an 11-game goal drought, from Nov. 3-27.

“Everybody forgets he’s playing a different role now,” Leafs forward Matt Stajan, Steen’s linemate for the past two seasons, told

It’s a defensive role, complete with an abundance of penalty-kill time and only sparse minutes on the power play each game. Offense, like Steen said, often becomes an afterthought for the defensive-minded forwards.

Not that we shouldn’t have seen this coming.

Even as a rookie, when Steen was one of the Leafs’ top power-play guys, he proved to be a true three-way threat as one of their top penalty killers, as well.

“His versatility is a key because when things aren’t going well in one area you can count on him going there and playing well,” Stajan said. “If you put him back in that offensive role, he’ll produce. His skill level is too good for him not to.”

To that end, he’s just like his father.

Only Alex Steen has carved his own NHL identity, too.

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