This season has been filled with a lot of ups and downs for
the Rangers. It’s seen a lot of underachieving hockey from the team’s biggest
stars that saw Marian Gaborik get shipped out. It’s seen them blow leads, get
outscored and outskated, has seen the power play both flourish and be abysmal,
and the penalty kill that was once one of the best in the league collapse at
times. Yet the Rangers are still in the thick of the playoff race going into
the last couple of weeks of the season.
One of the brightest spots through all of this has been the
play of center Derek Stepan. Stepan had a fantastic break out rookie season two
years ago and made the team right out of training camp. He skated mostly with
Marian Gaborik that year, and registered 21 goals and 24 assist. He made the
all rookie team for the all star game, and had people all over the league
Last year, despite still putting up 17 goals and 34 assists,
many around the league said he was guilty of going through a sophomore slump.
Critics said his stats were inflated from playing with a player of Gaborik’s
caliber, and that he was mostly on the ice during offensive situations, making
him one dimensional. At the start of this year’s shortened season Stepan was
mentioned as a player the Rangers should trade, as some team would probably
overpay for him, giving the Rangers a nice return back.
All of those critics at this point in the season should be
eating their words. In this shortened season, Derek Stepan has 14 goals and 19
assists, placing him second in both scoring and overall points to Rick Nash. He
is a team leading +18, 4 power play goals, 1 short -handed goal and 4 game
winning goals, the most on the team. He’s
scored almost as many goals this season as he has in the past two seasons in
less than half the games. Stepan is living up to his potential and is
solidifying his place as part of the Rangers core.
Stepan has been contributing defensively for the team this
season as well, so no one can say he is only on the ice in offensive situations
to pad his stats. He’s become an important penalty killer for the team and has
become very responsible with the puck in his own zone. Between his speed and
his puck possession skills, Stepan is a threat on the penalty kill as well. He
may only have one short-handed goal, but he’s had the opportunity for many
more. He’s been improving on face offs as well, and has earned Tortorella’s
trust to take them in key situations.
Yes he’s been playing with Rick Nash for a good part of the
season. But it’s made Stepan elevate his play, rather it being elevated by
Nash. He’s becoming the type of player that makes those around him better. His
passing has improved. He’s become tougher to muscle off the puck. And along
with Nash and Callahan, has been the Rangers best and most consistent player
through this shortened season of ups and downs. He’s been doing a lot of things
right this season, and not a lot of things wrong, both in the offensive zone
and in his own zone as well. Stepan’s going to be an important piece of the
puzzle not only in the final playoff push for this season, but for years to
come. And right now he’s making all of those who said “trade him, he’s
overrated” put a shoe in their mouths.
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