Boston Bruins

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 28: Oskar Steen #62 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on September 28, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Bruins winger Oskar Steen has made it clear that he has no interest in returning to the minors.

It started with a helper in his 2021-22 debut back on Oct. 24, and rolled on with another helper, this time in his Nov. 14 one-off against the Canadiens. And though Steen was held off the scoreboard in a Dec. 8 game against the Canucks, the Swedish forward made it three points in four games with the primary assist on Tomas Nosek’s goal in Sunday’s 5-1 win in Detroit.

That’s three points in four games — and in an extremely limited role in terms of minutes and opportunities — and enough to get the conversation going in regards to a long-term stay with the Bruins.

“Well, what’s happened is [that] he’s come up and played well,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Steen’s performances to date. “So, yeah, we’ve got a decision to make when it comes to him.”

The easy decision for the Bruins, and one they’ve made repeatedly this season, is to send the 23-year-old back down to Providence. He has minor-league options and there’s certainly an element of using ’em while you still got ’em. And Steen is one of a few Boston skaters who still possess those minor-league options, making him the first to go in any sort of roster situation.

“You’ve got these depth [players] in our lineup, contract situations, roster issues, so [it] becomes a little bit of asset management as well,” Cassidy admitted when discussing the situation facing Steen this season. “I mean, he doesn’t need waivers. It happens to certain guys in the league and throughout the league at times.”

In fact, Steen is one of two Bruins who does not require waivers. Goaltender Jeremy Swayman is the other, in case you’re wondering, which does absolutely nothing to help Steen stick with the Big B’s for the remainder of the season.

And realistically, the players in front of Steen right now are Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic, Curtis Lazar, and Karson Kuhlman. (If you want to go off production and position, you could theoretically include veteran Nick Foligno, but his no-move clause for this season and the way they’ve valued his leadership this season seemingly punches him out of this group.) The way the Bruins have talked about all these players — and perhaps more importantly, the way Cassidy has deployed them this year — indicates the difficulty of Steen sticking when Kuhlman comes off the COVID list and Lazar is back at 100 percent.

But, again, the body of work put forth by the 5-foot-9, 188-pounder is getting a little too hard to ignore.

Especially for a Boston team that needs more of what Steen has brought to the table in his showings out of the gate, and from a right wing position that’s been a black hole for the club this season.

In addition to his three assists in four games this year, Steen has made a positive difference on the ice for the Bruins at five-on-five, as the Bruins hold a 21-16 advantage in shots, 21-13 edge in scoring chances, and 3-1 mark in goals in just under 39 minutes with Steen out there. And though there’s an obvious sample size issue when it comes to Steen’s metrics, Steen’s expected goals-for percentage is second to only Patrice Bergeron, and same for his scoring chance-for percentage.

Steen’s 9.29 shots per 60 also rank as the fifth-most among all Boston forwards with at least two appearances this year, and since we’re talking about sample sizes, let’s talk about how Steen has produced three assists in under 39 minutes of five-on-five play. The guys he’s competing against? Well, Lazar has four points in 216 minutes, Frederic’s totaled four in 204 minutes, Blidh has four in 118 minutes, Foligno has recorded four in 234 minutes, and Kuhlman has two points in 180 minutes.

The Bruins, back in a playoff spot after Sunday’s win over the Wings (and with significant games in hand), are also rapidly approaching the point in their season where ice time needs to be performance-based and performance-based alone.

That, based on what we’ve seen so far and should it continue, favors someone like Steen. Same with the addition of the taxi squad (until the All-Star break, for now) that can and will prevent the Bruins from dismissing Steen back to the minors should they want to keep him around, and the eventual Jake DeBrusk trade could in theory create a full-time spot for Steen.

“Eventually you push your way through where you won’t get taken out and then you adjust your roster, right?” Cassidy acknowledged. “So that happens to a lot of different teams. [Sunday] happened to be a situation [where] Kuhly goes on COVID [list], and Lazar finished the game Saturday, but was a little banged up [and] he could have played if we really needed him to, but we got a fresh guy that’s playing well in Providence [with] young legs, back-to-back, and he takes advantage of it.

“Those are good decisions when guys push their way up. A little bit of youth in the lineup does every team well at times.”

Until then, however, all Steen can do is continue to push someone else out and turn that ‘at times’ to a ‘full time’ in Boston.

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Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.