Derek Stepan's start to the
The underwhelming season from all of our centers, and Brad Richards especially, is a discussion for another article. But the purpose it serves here is to highlight just exactly how important Derek Stepan has been to the Rangers. Rick Nash has had very few games where he has struggled this season, but almost all of them occured when Brad Richards was a black hole of offense and Nash was forced to be Superman. Nine of Rick Nash's 19 goals this season have come with a Derek Stepan assist attached. And while to some degree that is Derek Stepan benefitting from Rick Nash doing what Rick Nash does, the relationship absolutely has been symbiotic. On a team with so many talented forwards; Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik (for most of the season), and Ryan Callahan, it is Derek Stepan who is comfortably second on the team in points. Ten ahead of Richards. Fourteen ahead of Callahan.
In fact, Derek Stepan's point totals look impressive compared to the NHL as a whole. On NHL.com's ranking of centers by points, Stepan is currently in the 15th spot. We should qualify that with the fact that NHL.com's categorizing of players as centers is questionable; Jeff Carter is listed as one, but has been playing wing in Los Angeles, for instance. Nonetheless, it still paints a nice picture of how Stepan has performed this season. Ahead of guys like Tomas Plekanec, Sam Gagner, Mikko Koivu, David Krejci, and Mike Richards. All guys who are either clear-cut top line centers or at least belong in the discussion. And he's only one point behind Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar. Three behind Pavel Datsyuk. Four behind Henrik Sedin. If he wasn't completely lost for the first 10 or so games of the season, one has to wonder if Stepan would be past even those guys.
Those are the offensive numbers, but even his other totals imply a more well-rounded Derek Stepan. In his rookie season Derek Stepan had a faceoff percentage of 38.5%; statistically the worst player on faceoffs in the entire NHL. The following season, Tortorella played Stepan on the wing for many games, and it appeared that his future could be away from the center position. This season, Stepan's faceoff percentage stands at 46.5%, and while that's still a below-average number, it's dramatically improved from where it once was. Even with Tortorella trusted Stepan to take more important faceoffs against better centers. He's no longer a liability in the faceoff circle, which is important for anyone who wishes to stick at the center position.
He's also improved his game defensively. According to Behind The Net, the Rangers let in an average of 1.58 goals against per 60 minutes when Derek Stepan is on the ice, which is well below the 2.30 goals against that the Rangers average. And this is despite having one of the highest QUALCOMP ratings out of all forwards on the team (in other words, he is on the ice against better offensive players than most of the team faces). John Tortorella has given Stepan the role of first unit penalty killer, with his average of 2:05 of playing time shorthanded per game only below Ryan Callahan among NYR forwards. Or a lot more playing time shorthanded than he was getting last season, when he averaged 1:17 per game.
I hesitate to draw any conclusions from small sample sizes. In fact, even whole seasons can be misleading; just look at Petr Prucha's rookie season or Brian Boyle two seasons ago as examples of that. The 35 or so relevant games from Stepan this season is right on the divide of a "small" and "legitimate" sample size. It certainly is not enough games to accurately project his career, but it clearly has surpassed the point where it can be attributed to a nice streak. This season he has undoubtedly played at the caliber of a first line center. As for the future? That's not as clear-cut. Most forwards peak between the ages of 25-27. Stepan, as a 22 year old, is already putting himself in the first-line center discussion. He is producing goals and points at very similar rate as Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, and Eric Staal were doing as 22 year olds. But all players have different timelines for development so we can't accurately project Stepan's career on that alone. Here is what I feel comfortable saying; at minimum, we can expect 20 goal, 60 point kind of production from him on a yearly basis. And it would not shock me in the least if he became an 80 point center. He's not going to ever touch the Crosby's and Datsyuk's and other elite centers, but make no mistake; Derek Stepan is well on his way to soldifying himself as a good 1st line center in the NHL.
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I think Stepan is on a par with Henrik Sedin or John Tavares.He's a major first line center, sees the ice, quick soft hands, pretty good shot, smart playmaking.80 points is going to be the average for this dude.He and Nash will be a deadly duo, and if they add a Mike Richards level player to that line-watch out!
Step has made a believer out of me this year and I am as sure as one can be that this guy's for real, just as I was pretty much sure that both Prucha's rookie production as well as Boyle's was more of a fluke, even though I liked both players at the time (especially Prucha). Step certainly has the potential of being a first line center, as well as a 3rd liner, which is a compliment to his adaptability as well as him being a complete player.
Stepan has not only been a first line center this season, but a possible selke candidate. He fulfilled his biggest need during the offseason. He has allowed himself to take the next step by becoming much stronger on the puck, and very difficult to beat on the boards. That, with his existing combination of speed, skills, and an excellent hockey IQ, makes for a very promising future.
I am hands down the biggest stepan fan on this site. Kevin can defend me here. When people were talking about O'Reilly I vociferously defended Stepan. I always thought he was underappreciated before this year. Even in the beginning of the year when he supposedly got off to a "terrible" start, I kept trying to point out that he was getting chances just wasn't finishing. I think he's as good as many #1 centers in this league.
HOWEVER, I don't think he's proven he can be a #1 center on a STANLEY CUP WINNING team. Faceoffs remain a problem. He's also not an EXCEPTIONAL finisher. Yes, he's good (and has improved a lot this year), but there's more room for improvement there. He's clearly an above-average #2 and we can win a cup with him as a #2 for sure, but not sure he can lead us all the way as a #1. Your #1 center is almost like your quarterback - not quite but kind of - he has to be THE man in all situations (think: Messier). Other than your goaltender, he's the most important person on the team.
Hope I'm wrong - I love Stepan. I hope he remains a blueshirt for his entire career and glad he's finally getting the recognition he deserves.
Definitely a first line center! Even tho Richards had a game last night..if we wanted to trade him we still have. Stepan Line 1 Brassard 2 Miller 3 Boyle 4
I'm one of the biggest Stepan fans there is and I'm still not sure he will be a #1 line center. He will definitely be a solid or above average #2 but I never thought of him as higher. (If he is, fine by me and he may be since he can play with anyone.) I do know Richards was brought in to help him be one and say whatever you want about his play but he's definitely helped Stepan. I just hope this continues and isn't due to the fact this is a contract year.
@Herman_NYRBlog I don't think he is, but the fact that it's a worthy discussion shows how far he's come this year.
Things look promising. I'm sure a full training camp et. al. will help him even more, but I'm definitely excited for what he can do. Also, seeing that Stepan is 22, I often forget how many players in the NHL are my age...kinda weird to think about!
btw, Kovalchuk is playing tonight... so he will be playing tomorrow against us. Therefore, a different devils team then we have seen the last 2 or so weeks
He may have had a slow start, but glad nobody panicked and traded him for the Oneil character people were fawning over!!!
I love Stepan, what a year he is having. But right now Brassard is working very nicely with Nash. Which is why I think we need another winger that can score. If you have a line of Clowe-Brassard-Nash, then your second, or should i say 1B line would be Callahan-Stepan-?. I don't think Hagelin or Zuccs is at that point yet, where they should be up there. If the Rangers think one of the kids has the potential, then maybe that is the route they go, but I really feel they need one more winger that can bury the puck, but also play the game (hence not Gaborik)
@rangersfan I agree - and yeah, he;s pretty brutal on faceoffs but man is he solid, and his game keeps getting better
@rangersfan thing about Steps is he's not a great finisher, but he's always in very good position to finish. If he had both of those skills he'd be completely unstoppable.
@Melissa (blknblueshirts) Interesting about Richards, and probably on a championship team Step is your #2 center. At 22 he gets better every game so who knows...
just wondering, but could the Rangers fit Michael Ryder under the cap in the offseason? He makes 3.5 a year. If the big three RFA's get 11, and Clowe gets 3.5-4, they could possibly fit him in, but it would be tight
@Zelrio And yet, no center in Columbus on Nash's line ever came close to touching the production that Stepan is having. Clearly this does not alone explain his improved production.
@PenaltySh0t I agree with that. "Hockey Sense" is his strong suit. Has that in spades.
@Josh6 doubt we sign Ryder, if we do it's maybe for one or two seasons.