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NHL Winter Classic

Winter Classic showcase of NHL's global reach

Blues forwards Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen follow footsteps of European fathers who played in League

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- There was a moment during practice at Busch Stadium on Sunday when St. Louis Blues forwards Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen were alongside one another, changing into black jerseys near the bench.

Stastny, 31, and Steen, 32, are part of the core leadership group Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has come to rely on to provide veteran stability while his younger players -- Vladimir Tarasenko, 25, Jaden Schwartz, 24, and Robby Fabbri, 20 -- continue their all-around development at the NHL level.

More than that, each is a symbol of where the NHL has come in the past 50 years, or since the Blues first arrived as part of the Second Six wave of expansion in 1967. Back then, the NHL was dominated by Canada-born players, with the occasional player from the United States thrown in.

The League went from six teams to 12 and eventually to 30, sending NHL teams abroad in their search for new talent.

But more than anything, Stastny and Steen are the sons of two of the trailblazers who led us here, to the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Blues, who each boast a collection of international talent.

Steen's father, Thomas, was part of the first wave of Swedish players to arrive in the NHL, and he forged a 950-game career in the League with the Winnipeg Jets from 1981-1995.

Stastny's father, Peter, was the middle son of three brothers who defected from what was then Czechoslovakia, and for a time, in the Edmonton Oilers-Wayne Gretzky era, he helped the Quebec Nordiques become one of the NHL's most dazzling shows on ice.

Video: MTL@STL: Stastny picks the corner to beat Montoya

In all, seven nations (U.S., Canada, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden and Slovakia) will be represented on the ice at Busch Stadium on Monday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV), and the fact that this is almost taken for granted is maybe the most interesting part of the evolution.

Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen were born in Canada, Stastny in Quebec City on Dec. 27, 1985, and Steen in Winnipeg on March 1, 1984, but the European influence is there.

Most of Steen's key developmental years were spent in Sweden. The Stastnys eventually settled in St. Louis, Peter's last NHL stop, and so Paul played two seasons for River City in the United States Hockey League, and then another two seasons for the University of Denver, where he caught the attention of the Colorado Avalanche, who selected him in the second round (No. 44) of the 2005 NHL Draft.

Video: WPG@STL: Steen slaps home his 200th career goal

After eight seasons with Colorado, Stastny signed with his hometown team as a free agent on July 1, 2014.

The impact of the NHL-playing fathers on the NHL-playing sons, on and off the ice, is evident. Peter Stastny was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998, and Thomas Steen had his No. 25 retired by the Jets in 1995, shortly before the franchise moved to Arizona.

"More than anything with the two of them, their presence in the locker room, it just seems very natural," said St. Louis defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who played 46 games with Stastny in Colorado in his rookie season (2010-11) before being traded to the Blues. "You can tell they grew up in that sort of scene. Paul is someone I've been able to play with for most of my career, which I've been fortunate. I've kind of been adopted into their family in a way."

Paul was chuckling when talking about his still ultra-competitive father, who, at 60 years old, was like a giddy kid after playing for the Blues against the Blackhawks in the 2017 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game on Saturday.

"He's more emotional," Paul said. "I keep my emotions in check. People don't think I get emotional. When I get away, or by myself, I'm as competitive.

"He wears his heart on his sleeve."

What Hitchcock likes about Steen and Stastny is their hockey IQ. Steen might be the most versatile forward in the game. Usually, you find him on the right point of the Blues' first power-play unit, though he can play anywhere in the mix. At even strength, St. Louis uses him at center and on the wing, and Hitchcock routinely moves him up and down the lineup, wherever the need is greatest.

The same is true of Stastny, a reliable point-producer whose value to the Blues far exceeds the goals and assists he puts up.

"It's also intimidating because they see the game at a level most hockey players don't," Hitchcock said. "Most players are pretty much blue collar. And they see it as a white-collar game. They see it from an intellectual base."

Hitchcock provided an example.

"They see five steps ahead," he said. "They see, 'If we do this and we do this, and then this is going to happen.' Most players just see the actual event. They actually see the game like coaches, to be honest with you.

"It's very helpful."

Shattenkirk, who lived in the apartment of Yan Stastny, Paul's older brother, has witnessed it.

"They have very intelligent things to say when they critique hockey, when they talk about the game," he said of the Stastnys.

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