(KSDK Sports) -- The St. Louis Blues have put together an amazing club under Ken Hitchcock's coaching, and Doug Armstrong's excellent front office management. They have brought together a group of individuals who truly play as a team, showing that they (Armstrong, Hitchcock, and the entire Blues organization) have an amazing grasp of the game. Their management attitude is reminiscent of a current Blues' player, one who has become a proven leader, and who is still coming into his own in the NHL. Alexander Steen has become one of the league's best, and it's all because of his big ol' hockey brain (he just gets it).
Hockey IQ: A Brief Explanation
Having high hockey IQ is something that can transform your game, and can make you the biggest asset to your team. Some say you can't teach it, some say you can (including USA Hockey who has come up with a training regimen that develops this skill like none other), but in reality just as in life the truth is, some people just understand the game on a different level than most of us. People like Alexander Steen (just see the aggravated Toronto Maple Leafs fan's tweet below).
Hockey IQ is the ability to read the changes in the game as or before they are occurring, so that as a player you can be exactly where you need to be to receive the puck, break up a play, make a great pass, get a shot on goal, or step up and make a big hit.
This mental aspect of the game takes over as you get into higher levels and players like Steen who excel in this category separate themselves from the crop due to theirs. A great hockey IQ is made complete by an excellent skill set, which if your keeping score gives Alexander Steen another point in the awesome column (just see his last goal below).
Now that you have a background into what makes Steen such a force on the ice, it's time to expand your horizons on why he's such a key to the Blues' success. First off, the St. Louis Blues top line of Steener, TJ Oshie, and (who recorded his 2nd career hat trick in Toronto on Tuesday) all feed off each other's high hockey IQ and creative play making ability every game. They draw energy from each other every shift, and are excellent at adapting to situations in between periods and plays to find a way to claw back to the lead, or extend it.
Though each individual on the Blues' first line brings something so unique to the table, for most of this season it has been Alexander Steen who focuses the line's offensive efforts. Though it may very well be new father TJ Oshie's ridiculously creative style of play that sets up most of the chances, and David Backes' leadership and determination that drives the line, it's Steen's hockey IQ that allows them to capitalize on so many opportunities that they create together.
Call Ahead Scoring
Steen is able to do one of two things on any given rush. First, he is able to transition and change speeds/directions in an instant creating separation from opposing players, and second, he is able to draw more opposing players to him when he buys time in the offensive zone so that he can find the open man and deliver an accurate pass to them for a great scoring chance.
Combining these two skills shows you why it is so incredibly hard to read Steen's play (as those two skills provide pretty much opposite results), and they show you exactly how much he understands the game. Then add in his impressive skill set complete with an amazing shot, quick accurate passing abilities, the strength of his feet (balance), and his unreal stick checking ability and you've got the complete package.
Alexander Steen is able to read the play so well in fact, that he can always find an open scoring area, even when most teams are paying extra close attention to him with every step. Though he has been kind of sluggish since right before the Sochi Olympic break, his vision and leadership have still helped the Blues to their best season in franchise history (105 points thus far), and has the city ignited for what's to come.
Steen Finding His Rhythm Once Again
Though Alexander Steen was battling a lower body injury from the end of January through the Olympics, he seems to be getting back to full strength now. In his last 5 games he is a plus-4 with 4 points to match, but looking more closely at these stats shows he's gearing up for a hot April, and hopefully a playoff run that sees him catch fire (figuratively of course). He has actually scored all 4 of his points in the last 2 games, which he matches with a plus-5 plus/minus rating over that time, proving his difference making abilities are heating up.
His play prior to the last 2 games left something to be desired for fans, but as a true pro with an amazing sense of the game (hockey IQ) he is getting hot at the right time. Let's hope he can continue his scoring trend from the last couple of games through the playoffs so that the St. Louis Blues can feed off of him, and find their own rhythm en route to the first Stanley Cup Finals appearance for the club since 1970.
Mike Poepping will be contributing to KSDK Sports throughout the 2013-14 NHL season. Mike is the St. Louis Blues contributing writer at TheHockeyWriters.com, is a hockey player himself, and a life long Blues fan. Follow him on Twitter: @pep30.