Oskar Steen may be only 5 feet 9 inches, among the shortest players on the Bruins roster, but the sparkplug Swedish forward stretches the measuring tape nearly from here to Stockholm when it’s wrapped around either of his oversized, running-back-like thighs.
A photo of an impish Steen, 23, circulated on the internet in recent days, featuring the rookie standing in a dressing room, clutching a small doll chest-high as if it were a post-game trophy. In the shot, Steen is dressed in sweater and shorts, the latter exposing his jumbo-sized quadriceps, looking as if he were auditioning for the lead in a Popeye feature film.
“I like that description,” coach Bruce Cassidy noted during a media Zoom session late in the week. “He’s a stout player. He’s stocky, right? A shorter guy, but he’s not light, per se, weight wise.”
Summoned from AHL Providence before the holiday/pandemic break, Steen has become an emerging offensive dynamo of late as a third-liner on an improved Bruins squad that slapped a 5-2 loss on the Lightning Saturday night in Tampa.
He again added his name to the scoresheet, making the key feed to fellow Swede Anton Blidh for the late second-period goal that bumped the lead to 4-0 over the Lightning. The 165th pick in the 2016 draft, Steen has posted a 1-4—5 line in seven games this season and assuredly will be back on the job Monday night when the Bruins face the Caps in D.C.
In fact, both Steen and the dogged Blidh (2-3—5 in 14 games), the 180th pick in 2013, have made themselves essential personnel among the bottom six forwards on Cassidy’s crew. They’re hard on pucks, smart and effective along the the wall, willing to charge to areas around the offensive net that often translate into hard knocks and well-earned points.
They’re playing with the force, smarts, and effectiveness that some prior young forward candidates with higher profiles here — the likes of Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, and even Danton Heinen — too often dismissed or flashed only in spurts. Prized pick Jake DeBrusk, who could be available for duty in Washington after his second tour on the COVID list, delivered that kind of smart moxie for a couple of years, but strayed from it. He remains on the roster, while GM Don Sweeney pokes around the league to honor the trade request the 25-year-old made public prior to Thanksgiving.
Between the two Swedes, it appears Steen has more stick skill, the potential one day to play higher in the order. Also, much as in elite winger Brad Marchand’s experience, his compact size, lower center of gravity, and muscle mass make him a prime candidate to chisel his way up the lineup over time and perhaps land steady work in the top six.
“He’s got powerful legs and it’s made up probably for some of the areas [in his build and game] that he doesn’t have … he gets around the ice, he’s powerful and he uses it well,” said Cassidy. “He’s a sturdy guy and I imagine [the thighs] it makes it even harder to knock him off the puck, and when he gets inside position.”
Steen’s size and particularly his build, with its emphasis on quad conditioning and dynamic leg strength, is reminiscent of Martin St. Louis, the Hockey Hall of Famer who starred at the University of Vermont and for many years in Tampa.
St. Louis, an inch shorter than Steen, was tenacious in getting after the puck. It could be nearly impossible to make him surrender it once in possession. He played in a far more physical NHL than today’s version, in which lineups were dotted with big, fierce, cross-checking defensemen, and yet he could maneuver and score better than most forwards, many 4-6 inches taller and maybe 20-30 pounds heavier.
St. Louis, a lefthanded shot on right wing, called it a career at age 39, having accumulated 391 goals and 1,033 points in his 1,134 career games. Steen is a righthanded shooter who plays right wing or center.
“What I’ve liked about his game,” mused Cassidy, “is that he’s able to get inside guys in a hurry, with a lower center of gravity, and get his shot off. And that’s probably a combination of A. willingness, and B. a powerful core and a good first step.”
In that context, noted Cassidy, Steen also compares well with the 5-9 Brad Marchand, among the NHL’s top-scoring wingers in recent years.
“He’s starting his career, while Marchy’s well into it and an elite player,” reflected Cassidy, who was coaching at AHL Providence when Marchand arrived there over a decade ago as a first-year pro. “Marchy had some of those attributes when he was younger. Marchy was much more of a guy who would stir the pot, but you know what? Oskar is in there and he annoys people, too. He’s not afraid of any situation. That would be the similarity in how they compete, play the game and be successful offensively — by using their stature to their advantage.”
Marchand on Saturday night scored twice and increased his team-high totals to 14 goals and 33 points. Asked about comparisons post-game, Marchand first kidded that he and Steen are “both really, really good looking guys,” then agreed with Cassidy that the two have similarities in playing style.
“I love Steener’s game — he’s a really, really competitive guy,” added Marchand. “I think some of the similarities are that we both like to compete and battle … a little smaller in stature, but we get into those dirty areas. You have to do that at this level, and he’s done it since the first day he’s been here. He’s not scared to go to the corner. He’s not scared to go to the front of the net. He gets in on forechecks. He competes and battles with bigger guys … not only does he go in there, but he comes out with the puck. At this level you have to do that, win those one-on-one battles.”
Sheer strength alone rarely gets the job done, but when combined with will, hockey IQ, and guile, smaller players like Steen who combined all three elements often succeed in today’s NHL.
“St. Louis is an example,” said Cassidy, “but I use Brayden Point (Tampa/5-10) and [Andrew] Mangiapane (5-10) in Calgary’s done that well … you can go down the list of guys who are willing to play the game inside. Theo Fleury was a small guy who was fearless. Guys who can do that, and find their way through there, there’s room for them in the game.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.