Alex Steen the Right Man for Toronto Maple Leafs' Captaincy

Josh LewisSenior Analyst IJuly 23, 2008

Over the last two days Bryan Thiel and Derek Harmsworth have exhibited behaviour that would lead any defense lawyer to use the "insanity" defense.

Presented with the task of selecting the next captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, these supposedly knowledgeable writers went with Jamal Mayers and Matt Stajan, respectively.

And while both are serviceable choices, Bryan and Derek overlooked the best option of them all: Alexander Steen.

Steen has been touted as a future captain since the day he was drafted, and he certainly has many of the qualities a team would look for in one.

He is a leader, on and off the ice. It is difficult to determine what players are like inside the dressing room, but from what we've seen in interviews with Steen and teammates, it's clear that he's not afraid to be vocal.

On the ice, Steen was a defensively responsible player to begin with and he has worked hard to improve that side of his game, to the point that he is Toronto's best two-way forward. He also isn't afraid to get dirty in order to make a play or help out his teammates.

Steen has always been comfortable with the media. Even during his first serious training camp with the Leafs, when he was expected to be sent to the Toronto Marlies, he carried himself extremely well and was very open with reporters. He continues to be one of the few Leafs who speak with the media on a regular basis.

And whaddaya know? He made the team after all.

Some will say that a European is the wrong choice for the captaincy. Let me remind you that Nick Lidstrom's Red Wings just won the Stanley Cup.

Let's explore Steen's unorthodox upbringing. His father, Thomas, starred with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was known as a stellar two-way player who was also capable of significant offensive production. He had six seasons in which he scored near or over a point-per-game.

Alex was born in 1984, during his father's third season with the Jets. He grew up in Winnipeg, where his father played until Alex was 12.

Steen was introduced to the game in Canada and played his minor hockey here. That could explain his willingness for physical play.

He was raised on hockey, forming a close friendship with John Ferguson, Sr. from childhood and playing floor hockey outside the Jets' dressing room with the sons of Randy Carlyle and Andy Murray.

"Every Christmas we used to invite the players over for a get together," said Ferguson, who was the Jets GM. "And he'd show up with his mini-stick and shoot balls around and I'd play with him."

Steen moved back to Sweden to play for Vastra Frolunda at age 15 and played in the Swedish Elite League until coming to Toronto.

But back to the present.

Steen is one of the hardest working, dedicated players on the Leafs roster. He has willingly accepted the role the Leafs have given him without complaint, despite the fact it has limited his offensive freedom.

He has become an excellent defensive forward, a player the team can confidently throw out there with a one-goal lead and the game on the line. He's also evolving into an outstanding penalty killer who always has his stick in the right place and is capable of creating a break the other way.

These are qualities a captain needs to have. Yes, leading in the dressing room is an important part of his job description, but he must also lead by example.

That doesn't mean being the best player. It means doing the little things right and setting the bar for work ethic, commitment, and teamwork. It means getting back to protect your own end. It means taking a hit to make a play.

Alex Steen does all of these things.

When Mats Sundin went down with a groin injury late last season, Steen was counted on to step up his game and he delivered. Seeing time at first line centre, something that may happen more often next season, Steen responded with seven points in his next five games.

"I think I can play even better," he said. "But I've enjoyed every minute of it. Getting more opportunity and more responsibility. It's so much fun. That's what you play for, you want to be relied on."

When asked about the possibility of becoming the next captain, he spoke with typical humility: "We're getting ahead of ourselves here. We're worried about the eighth playoff spot."

Stajan, on the other hand, replied that Steen would make a great captain down the road, saying he has "great leadership qualities."

Steen's wide-ranging background means he is also a good choice on the communication side of things. A good captain must be able to communicate with all of his teammates effectively.

With his Swedish heritage, Canadian upbringing, and three years spent in Germany as a teenager, Steen will be able to relate to most of the young players coming in through the rebuild.

Whether it's Luke Schenn, Justin Pogge, Anton Stralman, or even Jerome Flaake, Steen has something in common with each of them.

And if you're still not convinced that Steen is the man to wear the "C," try this on for size: his locker is next to Mats Sundin's. It's hard to imagine he hasn't picked up a few things.

Some believe that a veteran should be named the captain until a younger player is ready for it, but if the Leafs are truly going to rebuild, it's time they placed more responsibility on the shoulders of their young guns. Until they understand that the team's fate is in their hands, they will not truly break through.

Besides, Steen himself said he loves taking on more responsibility. It's time to see what he can do with it.

Quotes from "Hockey's Young Guns" by Ryan Dixon and Ryan Kennedy, and


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