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I guess this is for you Damonk, if you see it. Steen's really impressing people, and they stole your quote!

TORONTO (CP) - Life is good for Alexander Steen.

His name is being mentioned with the elite of a solid crop of NHL rookies, his GM called him one of the team's best players and after just 15 games he's played his way on to the top line of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The toughest thing for the 21-year-old to do right now is live up to the lofty expectations his fine play has created.

"I'm not surprised," Steen said after practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena on Monday. "I've always known what I'm capable of doing. It's been real nice to have brought most of it out."

Then, after a short pause, he continued...

"And I still feel there a couple notches I can move forward."

The Maple Leafs will be thrilled if he can keep up his current pace.

Steen is fourth in rookie scoring with six goals and five assists and has a plus-4 rating on a team full of minus players. He's also part of Toronto's top penalty killing unit with sophomore Matt Stajan and has logged some minutes on the power play.

Most importantly, he's been the Leafs' most consistent forward and has yet to make the kind of game-breaking gaffe rookies are prone to.

"My game's really been progressing throughout the season," said Steen. "I'm feeling very confident."

In return, the team is showing confidence in him.

Steen took part in drills on Monday wearing the same dark blue practice jersey as captain Mats Sundin and Jeff O'Neill. When the Maple Leafs take on Washington at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night, he'll be the new left-winger on Toronto's top unit.

"Those two have been on fire," Steen said of his new linemates. "My job is to go out and try and keep them going."

Steen is particularly excited about playing with fellow Swede Sundin, who returned to Leafs lineup over the weekend after missing 12 games with an eye injury.

"He's huge back home," Steen said. "It's definitely going to be an honour playing with Mats. He's just flying out there so it's going to be awesome."

Steen, a first-round draft pick in 2002, has entered elite company just by making some waves in his rookie season.

The Maple Leafs have done a notoriously bad job of drafting players over the past 20 years and Steen is arguably the team's most promising prospect since Wendel Clark broke into the league in 1985.

Like Clark two decades ago, Steen has seen his role increase with every game Toronto plays. GM John Ferguson Jr. called him one of the team's best players during a television interview after Toronto's 5-4 loss in Washington on Sunday.

Clearly, the Maple Leafs have come to rely on him.

"He's getting a lot of stressful minutes to have to play," coach Pat Quinn said. "We're using him a lot.

"And so far he's shown us that he's very capable."

It's a trend that can be seen around the league as players like Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals, Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Chicago's Pavel Vorobiev and Colorado's Marek Svatos have become integral parts of their teams.

Quinn says the new economics of the NHL has opened the door for rookies as teams struggle to stay below the salary cap.

The veteran coach is happy that Steen is part of that group, but is wary of using the rookie too much.

"There'll be a place probably where he might hit a wall a little bit," Quinn said. "Each athlete has to work his way through it."

Steen, who last year played 50 regular-season games with MoDo in Sweden, agrees with Quinn. He's currently working with the team's strength and conditioning coach, Matt Nichol, to try and avoid a letdown during the NHL's gruelling 82-game schedule.

Above all, Steen is trying to savour his first season under the NHL spotlight.

"I don't feel pressure, just excitement," he said. "I'm enjoying every game out there."

Alexander Steen is a huge brightspot in this early season of Leaf ups and downs. For the most part, it looks like they have most of the parts for a solid team, but so far they've not been able to find the English instructions for assembly. The good core of young players like Steen, Stajan, Kilger, Wilm, Telly, and Wellwood are showing for the first time in a long while our Leafs are looking towards the future as well as pushing towards a Cup in the present.

Now, just to sign a really really solid defenseman :p
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It's Hockey Night Tonight.

Yep. I'm going to make a post. A real one. About Hockey.

It's back.

Finally, the NHL returns, with new rules, and alot of new excitement around it. This means, of course for a Leaf fan, the return of the lovely media coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Most teams are looked upon in a positive or hopeful light by their local media sources, the Leafs seem to be the exception and it's already started. Maybe some of it's deserved, the Leafs haven't brought home a cup in what, a billion years? Quite the drought. Have the Leafs had a hard time in the Playoffs? Yeah, maybe... but when the Senators are picked to win the cup, and the Leafs condemned at the same time for poor playoff performances things get sorta iffy (Sorry Sens Fans, I do think your team got alot stronger this year, I'll talk about that later). Bashing the Leafs is an October Tradition, so the critics are already discounting the Leafs from the playoffs. Yes. Already. In October. Before the first regular season game has even been played.

Is it a possibility? Yeah, sure it is. Quite frankly this year, more then any other year the cup is open for ANY of the 30 teams to win. The salary cap has helped many small market teams, hurt the big budget teams and brought something resembling parity to the NHL. Well, not that big budget teams equal a cup. Just ask the Rangers. Or the Lightning.

Well, let's take a look at the Canadian teams. I'll leave TO for last because it will be more indepth as I know them better. I wish I could give the other Canadian teams a better analysis, but I can't, not fairly at least. I will say this, I fully expect all 6 to make the playoffs.

The Canucks:
Not much to say about them, really. The past few years they've played as a team, and possibly better as a team then any other club. Every player was a part in the machine. Most of these parts are back, and how could the Canucks not be considered serious challengers for the cup? I'd give them the edge over the other Canadian Western Division teams, because if I don't, Bertuzzi will come and kill me.

The Oilers:
The problem with the oilers is no matter HOW good the team is today, it will always, always, always be compared to the Oilers with Gretzky, Fuhr, Messier et al. Now, they picked up Pronger, but lost Brewer which hopefully for them will be a good move. A solid team, and that might let Peca bring out his A-game. I predict that Cory Cross will lead the team in scoring....on their own net. (Just for you Mike!)

The Flames:
Calgary was inches away from bringing the cup back to Canada in their upstart run a couple of years ago. Many are saying that they'll be a powerhouse with Iginla, Kipper and one of the better defenses in the league. They probably will, but living up to that may cause some problems, the stars maybe there, but other keys players have moved on and people will need to step up. It's Calgary though, so I doubt any will hesitate to step up. They've got alot to prove and alot of expectations to meet, I'd not bet against the Flames though.

The Canadiens:
The Habs will benefit under the cap. Koivu and Theodore have shown in the past they are quite capable of making the team step up to the next level. The Preseason showed us some of the prospects the Habs will be able ot bring up this year or next, and they definitely look impressive. Playoff bound for the Habs, with a solid future ahead of them.

The Senators:
To say the Sens aren't a good team would be foolish. Picking up Heatley and pairing him with Spezza is going to lead to some fast, explosive playing. The Sens really haven't changed a whole lot with the new rules, they were capable of operating under the cap because they were used to it. Hossa being gone might hurt the team a little, but I think Heatley can replace him. Other loses were no more then most other teams endured due to the cap and desires to play elsewhere. I think the loss of Coach Martin is the thing that could hurt them most. Or Hasek deciding not to play. They'll be in the top two of their division.

The Leafs:
Comparatively speaking, big changes for the Leafs, though that may only seem that way because I'm more familiar with Leaf team then any of the other. Roberts, Nieuwendyk, Mogilny and Leetch are all gone, and in are Allison, O'Neill and Lindros and a lot of questions. For the first time in a few seasons, however, Toronto seems to be letting some youth in with Stajan, Steen, Kilger and some kid named Wozniewski along with a few others waiting in the wings with the Marlies. Quinn will probably be going for depth, and this time there is a potential for 4 fairly solid lines. Defense once again is the big question, but picking up Khavanov should do alot to give the leafs a solid 2 lines of Defense, with a third line of Berg and Belak the real question. The starting line up is, as always with Quinn's team, a mystery until near game time, though some chemistry has developed between players that we can expect to see on the same line, like Antropov and Ponikarovsky who teamed up for some insane points over the preseason, as well as Stajan and Steen hitting it off. I expect one of those pairs, probably Antro and Poni to be with Sundin. Stajan and Steen will most likely be paired with O'Neill as Stajan in more likely to play center. Allison will likely find himself with Darcy Tucker and Mariusz Czerkawski, and hopefully Czerkawski has found a team he wants to play for, especially with his friend Mats as the captain. Lindros will most likely hold center on the fourth line with Domi and one of the rookies, which might be the best for Lindros as for once not having the pressure and spotlight on him could really help him return to form... and having someone like Domi there to keep him from being nailed to often could only help. Switching Tucker and Domi could also help the idea of 4 rolling scoring lines, and I have a feeling, like always, Pat Quinn will be tinkering with the lines all through the season, trying to get the best combinations for four lines, which is something that can only benefit the team. Not much to say about Belfour, he'll probably be his typical self this season, but hopefully with fewer injuries.

Tonight's Game:

I'd love to see the Leafs win. Defeating the Sens tonight would be a huge boost. Realistically though, I don't see it happening. The team chemistry didn't get a chance to build too much over the preseason, as it truly was a battle for a fair number to make the team. That means the first few games of the season will be rough, as each player tries to find his place. Antropov and Poniskarovsky along with Stajan and Steen really did seem to click though, and I dunno if I'll ever get over saying something GOOD about Antropov, but those two combinations will hopefully be the catalyst that fires up the Leafs in the early season. Either team lighting up the other's goalie early on will probably go along way towards a win, and the way the Spezza-Heatley line has clicked I have a strong feeling the Sens are just more ready for the game as a team. Who knows though, tonight is the first REAL time we'll see either team play this year, and the new rules and the calls could very well what makes or breaks the game. My prediction is for the Sens to win, but my heart is with the Leafs.

Go Leafs Go!


No Mike, you cannot be an Oompa Loompa when you grow up.

Yes Jon, you can be an Oompa Loompa when you grou up.