We've talked a lot about the impact that Marian Gaborik's return would have on this team. His scoring prowess, his underrated passing and his ability to make space for everyone on the ice with him would only be a positive. We were hoping that his play would get Alexander Frolov back on track, along with guys like Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan.
Well, it certainly has been, but for more reasons than the ones I outlined above.
One of the players that has been directly effected, in a positive manor, with Gaborik's return has been Stepan. The Rangers top-flight rookie scored five points (three goals and two assists) in his first five games. He then went scoreless in ten games while posting a -5.
Then Gaborik came back, and now we're looking at a different Stepan.
Join me after the jump to see why.
Since Gaborik's return Stepan has posted one goal and five assists in his last seven games, all of them with Gaborik's return. In those seven games Stepan has seen a significant increase in minutes (which I am assuming has to do with his increase in confidence); going from 12 minutes all the way to 19 in the game against the Calgary Flames.
In the end, it's more likely that Gaborik's return didn't directly result in Stepan's better play. But what did happen when Gaborik came back, was the lines being "pushed down." Suddenly Erik Christensen was only a part-time first line center, Ruslan Fedotenko and Sean Avery didn't have to play a full game on the third line and there was a place to throw Frolov if he continued to try the wrap-around to score a goal.
That change allowed Stepan to play with Gaborik on the first line for some of the game, get some confidence, and not be thrown to the wolves when he went back to third line duty. And the improvement can be seen.
Stepan's contributions can't be measured in goals, although that's how people like to justify how a prospect is doing. Stepan was never a goal scorer in college, he might develop into one, but as for now his danger is in his vision and his hands. And he's been showing them off.
His pass, which lead to the Del Zotto goal against Minnesota, was a thing of beauty. His outlet passes have been crisp (since he found his game) and he's back to being the player who makes the right decision (between pass and shoot) in pressure situations.
Stepan is in a good place right now, and he is obviously gaining the trust of the coaching staff (he did play 19 minutes last night). Let's hope he keeps it up. Thoughts?
P.S.: You might have noticed that I haven't been posting too many stories (but have been in the comments as much as I can). I'm still getting used to the job, but expect me back and posting stories soon.