Apparently Derek Stepan is part of the Rangers young core. Well, the sun goes down at night if you didn’t already know. Most people that took notice of the 2nd year Rangers’ rookie year will know what kind of a player the Rangers might have on their hands. Anyone that followed his career prior to landing in New York knows that Stepan can handle big games too. The World Junior Championships being exhibit A.
At this stage of his career however, there may be a better question to consider. Instead of whether Stepan is part of the Ranger core (he is – duh); what is his upside both statistically and in terms of roster spot? Has it changed since he burst on to the scene with a hat trick last season?
What is perhaps most impressive with Stepan is a key ingredient required for sustained success in the New York sports world: temperament. Stepan had a poor start to this season – at least offensively speaking. How often did you see him vent his frustration or how often did you see him smash a stick against the boards? Never. Stepan is a grounded individual with vision and a huge dose of skill. I’ll bet you that his approach to the game played a big part in the recent turnaround in his play (and production).
His pass for Marian Gaborik’s first goal against the Jets was a great display of accuracy, patience (allowing the play to develop) and awareness. He knew very well that he had one of the best shooters in the game in perfect position to his right. Derek Stepan makes good decisions. At this stage Rangers fans will be enthused by the depth at center if Stepan and Anisimov continue to grow their game. For the record: given the prospects en route to the big club (Kreider, Thomas, Hagelin, Miller) do not think Anisimov’s future lies on the wing unless he blows the roof off of the renovated MSG offensively.
Derek Stepan could round out as a very nice, high end second line center; a compliment to Brad Richards. For those fans that think that’s not a good place to be or even an insult check out some of the other teams in the league who have had recent success. Having a good one-two punch down the middle is a great recipe for success. Look at the Penguins, the Wings, the Sharks, Canucks – they all have impressive center depth.
Back to the question at hand; what is Stepan’s potential upside? Rangers’ fans should (would?) gladly accept a 50-60 point playmaker with an impressive hockey IQ and defensive conscience any day of the week. That Stepan’s offensive production may be capped because of Richards being ahead of him in the depth chart should be immaterial. Having a great 1-2 punch is what matters most and the way Stepan is going recently, the Rangers appear to be on their way to having a lethal combo on their hands.