Toronto Star

Steeves impresses Wickenheis­er in camp

Former Notre Dame star finds chemistry with prospect Robertson

- KEVIN MCGRAN SPORTS REPORTER

Alex Steeves feels the guinea pig in Hayley Wickenheis­er’s science project.

Steeves was a highly regarded free agent out of the Univeristy of Notre Dame, freshly signed by the Maple Leafs, when Wickenheis­er was named the team’s senior director of player developmen­t this spring.

“I think I was one of the first players she’s really worked with one on one since she got promoted to her new role,” Steeves said.

“So I think we learned a lot from each other. I think in some ways I was probably a bit of a guinea pig for her. And I think her and I are pretty similar in terms of our mental approach. Obviously, she’s got a much better career than I could probably dream of.”

Wickenheis­er, the Hockey Hall of Famer with four Olympic gold medals, ran the Leafs’ five-day developmen­t camp that will now morph over to a five-team rookie tournament in Travers City, Mich., later this week. And she seems high on Steeves, a dual CanadianAm­erican citizen who played the bulk of his minor hockey in New Hampshire and is now looking at a top six role with the Toronto Marlies.

“To me, he looks like a pro player on the ice,” Wickenheis­er said. “He’s a man, the way he’s built.

“And he continues to put in the work. So there’s no concerns for his work ethic or his ability to show up every day and be a profession­al on the ice. He’s very diligent and a very serious guy. I like his approach and I also thought he had a solid camp.”

Steeves was one of the standouts in the developmen­t camp. Playing mostly with Nick Robertson, he scored four goals for Blue in a 6-0 win over White in a Monday scrimmage. Ian Scott, Keith Petruzzi and Taylor Gauthier each played a period for Blue and shared the shutout. Robertson, who fed Steeves continuall­y, scored a goal as well.

“I’ve never really had the pleasure of playing with (Steeves) until today, actually,” Robertson said. “So it was great to get chemistry like that, just like that. He’s a player that’s a little bigger than me and he skate, he can get in the corners and give me the puck, let me do my thing.

“He’s got a great shot. He can really shoot the puck, I can shoot the puck. If I can get it in his area, he can score. If he gets in mine, I can score. He’s a great asset, a great addition to the organizati­on.”

Steeves, who is five-foot-11 and 185 pounds, had 15 goals and 32 points in 29 games for Notre Dame and was a second team all-star in the Big Ten Conference. He was born in Bedford, N.H., after his Canadian parents moved there and, while the family spent time in Minnesota, the bulk of his childhood was spent in New Hampshire until Steeves joined Sioux City of the USHL while in high school.

He was overlooked in the draft, perhaps because of his skating, but Steeves’ work ethic and his devotion to the game and fitness has made him a top prospect.

Wickenheis­er said the challenge for Steeves will be to adapt to the speed of the game at the AHL level.

“He has the ability to make plays and we saw him finish off a couple of goals today. He’s got a good shot. He’s very strong, he’s powerful,” Wickenheis­er said. “It’s … can he make plays under pressure at the next level? Can he impact the players around him when he plays with less skilled players as well?”

For now, it’s a first-things-first approach.

“I just wanted to keep a positive trajectory for me in the organizati­on,” Steeves said. “So my main goal (in camp) was just be able to compete and I was able to do that. Picked up some pointers from staff. Practised and played hard, so it was fun.”

Now it’s off to Traverse City, where he and Robertson, probably with Semyon Der-Arguchints­ev, will form the top line.

“Nick Robertson and I were talking at the end of scrimmage, and we were like: Keep the mojo going in the right direction, play the same way, expect to have the same success in Traverse City,” Steeves said.

“And then for training camp, what my goal has been and what it will continue to be is just be the best version of myself, compete really hard and make it really hard on the Leafs to send me down.”

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