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Alex Steeves is more than his offensive success and fits the Maple Leafs bottom six needs

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Photo credit:David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
Bennett Jull
3 months ago
Thursday the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Alex Steeves had been called up from the Marlies while John Klingberg had been placed on LTIR. Steeves’ stellar scoring start has been well-documented this year, but there is much more to his game than just goals and assists. I was hopeful of a call-up for him this week, and the timing of this call-up seems ideal. His possible fit within Toronto’s forward group is fascinating, and I’m very eager to see how he slots in.
It would be very remiss of me to not touch upon Steeves’ hot offensive start to the year. He leads the Marlies in goals and points and is right near the top of the AHL scoring charts. Only one of his 11 goals and a mere three of his 18 points have come on the power play. Over his AHL career, he has averaged a little under one point per game.
Obviously, his offensive output has been impressive, and it’s definitely one of the main reasons he’s back in the NHL. That being said, it’s his overall play that warrants a promotion. There is more of an attention to detail defensively. He has been trusted at times with a penalty-killing role. His overall 200-foot game has been impressively consistent, which is the key for him. Blocking shots, finishing checks, and killing penalties. These facets of the game are critical for someone looking to make the jump up to the NHL and stick.
Alex Steeves has dominated plenty of AHL games throughout his time in the league. In the past, that level hasn’t been consistent. He could be the most noticeable guy on the ice one night, and the next night look like a run-of-the-mill AHL player. That’s completely changed this year. We are ~20% through the AHL regular season, and Steeves has been an impact player night in and night out.
So, what makes the timing of this so ideal? First and foremost, Steeves is being called up at the peak of his powers. He’s exuded confidence on a nightly basis, and he’s playing the best hockey of his career. When he played his first three NHL games back in 2021-2022, he was a rookie. Last year, through some inconsistency, Steeves didn’t receive a call-up until February, when he featured in three more games. This time around, the Leafs’ are getting the best version of Steeves that we’ve seen.
It’s also important to note how different his role will be in the NHL. In the AHL, Steeves gets power play time, logs heavy minutes, and is on the ice for the Marlies in any/every critical situation. That won’t happen with the Maple Leafs. His ice time will be slashed in half (likely more), his special teams time will be slim to none, and his offensive opportunities will significantly reduce. What he does with limited ice time will be critical.
Now where could he slot in? Below are the line combinations Toronto practiced with Thursday. With back-to-back games this weekend, Steeves could factor in against Pittsburgh. If he does, he will very likely get a 4th line role and play alongside David Kampf.
When looking at Toronto’s current 4th line options, it certainly appears that Steeves will have to beat out Bobby McMann if he wants any kind of extended run of games. While McMann currently has the inside track, I think Steeves may have more offensive instincts/ability in his locker. McMann has played very well and done a solid job of solidifying Toronto’s 4th line at the expense of Ryan Reaves.
It all comes down to Steeves taking his chance. In his six NHL games thus far, he has registered one assist. If not by scoring, he will have to show he can contribute in other ways. His board play will need to be strong and winning 50/50 puck battles will be imperative. Filling lanes in the defensive end and smart decision-making when he does get the puck will also go a long way. He isn’t a fighter, but finishing every check could also help his case.
I’m excited to watch Steeves get his shot. He’s more ready for it than he’s ever been, and perhaps there is an opportunity here for him to truly grasp onto a roster spot. He turns 24 in just over two weeks, and he will be itching to truly make his mark at the NHL level. His offensive ability has shone through thus far in the AHL, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pots his first NHL goal at some point this season. I’m very excited to watch yet another Marlies forward affect the Maple Leafs, let’s hope for four points this weekend!
 
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