Before the 2013-14 NHL season began in October, 30 anonymous NHL stars were surveyed by ESPN The Magazine.
The survey asked the player’s opinions on topical issues in the NHL, ranging from league expansion to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
One particular question asked the respondents to name the most underrated player in the NHL. With a list that included Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Backstrom, it was the St. Louis Blues own Alex Steen that topped it, garnering 13.3 percent of the vote.
However, if he keeps playing like he has nine games into the young season, underrated will quickly become an understatement when describing Steen.
After a two-goal performance against the Nashville Predators Saturday night, The Blues winger tied Alex Ovechkin for the league lead in goals at 10. That in and of itself is impressive, until you account for the fact that Steen has played three less games (nine) than Ovechkin (12).
However, a consummate professional, Steen doesn’t want to hear anything about comparisons between the two players:
“It’s only nine games … nine games. He’s been doing it for years. I’ve been doing it for nine games. Relax.”
Steen is entering rarified territory in Blues history with his incredible start to the season, putting his name in the record books next to legends such as Brett Hull and Brian Sutter. Only Sutter has reached 10 goals quicker in franchise history, accomplishing the feat in the first eight games of the 1978-79 season. Since then, only Hull (1989-90 and 1990-91) and Scott Young (2000-01) have come close to that benchmark. Both scored their 10th goal in their ninth game of the season.
You can now add Steen to that list.
“To be honest, it’s been a big part of why I feel comfortable and confident, 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. Osh’s efforts on the forecheck, Backes’ reads and hits is what is creating all these situations for me.”
Blues fans have seen flashes of Steen’s potential before. A two-time 20-goal scorer, he reached the 50-point plateau in the 2010-11 season, scoring 51 points.
However, injuries have plagued Steen over his career, and have kept him from showing his true potential over a full season.
Steen has only played a full 82-game season once in his career, his second in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2006-07. In the past four years, he has played 40 (lockout-shortened season), 43, 72 and 68 games respectively. That adds up to 71 games missed, 11 short of a full season.
Steen’s injury-shortened seasons have left Blues fans wondering what could have been more than once during his tenure in St. Louis.
However, If health is not an issue for him this season, his potential may finally be reached.
He is currently on pace for an absurd 91 goals and 137 points. In addition, his shooting percentage is a ridiculous 38.5 percent. Obviously, Steen’s current pace will be impossible to keep up. However, a career year is definitely looming on the horizon.
If Steen can average close to a point-per-game over the course of the season, the Blues will finally have their legitimate weapon on offense that they have desperately craved.
Still, nothing is set in stone.
Health will be a major factor, as always. Additionally, keeping his linemates intact will prove integral in Steen continuing his torrid pace.
Maybe most importantly, opponents around the league are going to start game planning to stop him- if they haven’t already. Kevin Skattenkirk acknowledges the fact that Steen’s underrated label isn’t going to last much longer.
“Hopefully teams underestimate him a little bit,” Shattenkirk said. “But I think that (label) is quickly starting to lose its power.”
Underrated or not, one thing is for sure. He has been fun to watch.