Drafting a gem is one of the most captivating experiences as a hockey fan. Late-round steals are incredibly satisfying to nab in any given draft year. Some of the most notable ones in the past few decades include Kirill Kaprizov, Joe Pavelski, and Patric Hornqvist. However, while having a late draft pick pan out can be amazing, nothing beats a player who never got drafted becoming an NHL superstar. While it is rare, it is far from unheard of. For example, the great one himself, Wayne Gretzky, was an undrafted player. However, while the odds of a player as impressive as Gretzky going undrafted in today’s day and age is slim, stars still manage to slip through the cracks. This offseason, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Notre Dame forward Alex Steeves to an entry-level contract. Based on his rookie camp performance, he may be another example of an undrafted player proving everyone wrong.
Fighting Saints and Fighting Irish
Steeves began his junior career with the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL during the 2015-16 season. As a 17-year-old, he managed to score 11 points in 39 games. Steeves played on a line with Mitchell Fossier, currently playing for HC Banska Bystrica in Slovakia, and Eeli Tolvanen, current forward for the Nashville Predators. Going into the 2016-17 season, he was looking to break out in the USHL with a half-year under his belt. However, Steeves’ short-term success with the Musketeers would not continue as he found himself on the Dubuque Fighting Saints the following year.
The 2016-17 season saw Steeves pot 18 points in 53 games with the Fighting Saints. Despite a new year, his numbers took a minimal step in the right direction. Steeves was the third line center, with Jacob Hamacher on his left and Scott Corbett on his right. Considering neither of his linemates have proven to be massive talents as of right now, perhaps part of his inability to add to the overall point total comes from a lack of talent on his wings. However, in the playoffs during that year, Steeves scored four points in eight games. He was showing some improvement over the course of a few months. Going into the next year, Saints fans were expecting a decent performance from Steeves. However, what they were not expecting was the year that followed.
Steeves ended the 2017-18 season with 57 points in 55 games, which was an insane increase in points. He went from being a third-line player to being universally accepted as one of the best forwards in the USHL. By the end of the year, Steeves was playing with Quinn Preston, who currently plays for the University of Ohio, and Matias Maccelli, a current prospect of the Arizona Coyotes. His numbers had skyrocketed. After the conclusion of this year, Steeves headed off to the University of Notre Dame, where he would begin his collegiate career.
As a first-year member of the Fighting Irish, Steeves scored 9 points in 39 games. The transition to college was a bit rougher than expected. However, in a similar fashion to his time with the Fighting Saints, Steeves managed to score 28 points in 36 games the following year. Once again, he went from having a rough freshman season to having a much better sophomore season. However, unlike his time with the Fighting Saints, Steeves had a third season with the Fighting Irish. In this final year with Notre Dame, he scored 32 points in 29 games. With a goal almost every other game, it was enough to get recognized by the Maple Leafs and signed to an entry-level deal.
A Potential Toronto Titan
Steeves has shown from his rookie season in the juniors up to his final game with Notre Dame that he is a player who has a high skill cap. Now that he has a contract with the Maple Leafs, he will be looking to make an impression early on. Steeves has shown a consistent trend of having a rough first year before blowing the doors off the following season. If this trend stays true with Toronto, Steeves will most likely spend a year in the AHL. However, this may not be the case. Steeves had a stellar performance at the Maple Leafs’ rookie camp before an injury left him sidelined. Once he returns to playing, there is a very high chance that he gets a chance with the NHL squad, especially if that return takes place during the preseason.
Alex Steeves was a brilliant signing by the Maple Leafs. He’s a very skilled young player who went unnoticed in his draft years. Considering how when he was placed alongside more talented players, his production went up, he will most likely see another great year alongside professional talent. Regardless of whether Steeves spends time in the NHL or plays with the Toronto Marlies next season, he will be someone that both fans and management should be keeping an eye on. Regardless, this next year should give plenty of insight into what type of player the Maple Leafs’ fans will be getting in Steeves.