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Maturing Steen a chip off the old block

Modest son of Jets legend evolves into leader on and off the ice

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ST. LOUIS -- There's a small group of media gathered again around Alex Steen Tuesday morning -- a regular occurrence now for one of the NHL's top snipers -- but the man looks as comfortable with all the attention as a dude who just loudly passed wind in a packed elevator.

It's while listening to the St. Louis Blues forward, the Winnipeg-born son of Jets legend Thomas Steen, that those familiar with the father can't help but be struck by one indelible fact:

This guy is a walking, talking clone of his old man -- albeit with darker hair and minus the Swedish accent.

Ask him about his hot start and the first words out of his mouth are about the success of the team.

'He's become the collective conscience of our hockey club, off the ice, on the ice, in the weight room... anywhere'

-- Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on Alex Steen

Ask him about how the 11 goals in 10 games, including the winner against his hometown Jets last night, affects his confidence and he squirms before saying: "It gives you confidence. It does."

Awkward silence follows...

"There's not much to say about it," said Steen with a grin and a shrug. "I mean, it's been fun. It's been enjoyable. But it's early."

A few more questions follow about his chemistry with linemates David Backes and T.J. Oshie with Steen responding, of course, about how he is benefiting from their hard work.

Finally, his response to the statement about him seeming much more comfortable talking about the team than his own numbers: "That's what we're about in here. There's not much to say about it."

Fair enough. But move around the Blues dressing room and any number of players will rave about the 29-year-old, now in his sixth year with the Blues. And bring his name up to Ken Hitchcock and the St. Louis head coach will gush about all aspects of his game, not just the gaudy point totals.

"Everybody's talking about the offensive numbers, I don't think that's as relevant as this is just the evolution of a complete player," said Hitchcock. "He's got a good conscience for the game, he sees the game properly, he understands 200 feet (the entire ice) offensively and defensively, he gets the idea of proper positioning with pressure, he's excellent at that. The line plays an intelligent game and when they play an intelligent game they create scoring chances.

"He's able to absorb any role we give him, whether it's an individual matchup one on one, if it's a line matchup... doesn't matter. All of us are really happy for his offensive numbers but we're more happy with the way his game has evolved.

"He's become the collective conscience of our hockey club, off the ice, on the ice, in the weight room... anywhere. He's a guy all the younger guys follow because the emphasis he puts on conditioning during the season pushes the rest of them to a whole new level."

Now entering the final year of his current deal with the Blues, Steen's evolution has been all about hard work and dedication. The humility? Yeah, he gets that from his father -- a man he still chats with regularly but relies on less than in his early days in the NHL.

"It' not so much this season but from the get-go," said Steen when asked about leaning on his dad for advice. "Getting into the league and having ups and downs and having somebody to talk to that's been through it was really helpful in the early going. When you're younger you seem to take everything more personal... the decisions that are made. I had the benefit of him playing for 1,000 games and then having him work on the other side of things with the Wild and that part helped me, too."

That answer, it could be said was classic Steen: deftly passing off compliments and burying every opportunity to heap the praise on someone else.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 30, 2013 C2

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