When you think of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan it's hard not to think of the "1A and 1B" center labels. However, it is Stepan who is paid the big bucks and with that bigger contract comes loftier expectations.
Let’s get an idea of what Stepan brings to the Rangers when considering his $6.5 million cap hit.
Two centers that have similar deals to Stepan are Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche and Ryan Kesler of the Ducks. The 20 year old MacKinnon just signed his deal and Kesler signed his contract extension as a 30 year old pending UFA last year.
Although they are not similar in age to Stepan, both Kesler and MacKinnon are centers that have similar cap hits and contracts of similar length. Mackinnon’s deal expires in the 2023 offseason. Kesler’s expires in the 2022 offseason. Stepan’s deal will expire in the 2021 offseason.
Here is a look at what MacKinnon and Kesler did for their teams last season.
- MacKinnon: 72 games played. 21 goals, 31 assists. 234 shots.
- Kesler: 79 games played. 21 goals. 32 assists. 164 shots.
Now here is a look at what Stepan did in the 2014-15 season and this past season.
(EDIT: note- “HERO” charts reflect the last three years of performance. This was admittedly not the best way to show the difference in performance for Stepan)
- Stepan 2015: 68 games played. 16 goals. 39 assists. 155 shots.
- Stepan 2016: 72 games played. 22 goals. 31 assists. 192 shots.
Stepan remained damn good at making plays but once again failed to hit the 60 point or 200 shot benchmarks (a big reason why is the ten games he missed). One look at the numbers makes it clear that Stepan is a pass-first player that creates significant offense for the Rangers.
His contract might not look as smart as MacKinnon’s will in a few years, but it sure looks a lot better than Kesler’s deal. So, we have that going for us. Take that Disney-movie-named-California-hockey-franchise.
In 2015-16 Stepan picked up eight fewer assists but scored six more goals than he did in 2014-15. A quick reminder: goals are good.
His primary assist numbers fell from 26 two years ago (team leader) to 17 last year. A big reason for that drop was Rick Nash’s injury-riddled off year. Your star winger going from 42 goals to 15 in a year is going to impact your counting stats.
J.T. Miller helped pick up the slack by scoring 22 goals, but there is a good reason why Stepan’s primary assist rate dropped from 1.26 First A/60 to 0.80 First A/60 in a year. A bad year for Nash meant a noteworthy bite was taken out of Stepan’s assist numbers.
Still, it was encouraging seeing Stepan pot a career-high in goals. He was tied for third on the team with the 22 goals he scored this year.
What wasn’t encouraging was seeing Stepan miss ten games after he played in 68 games in 2014-15. He needs to find a way to stay healthy and in the Rangers lineup.
Don’t believe that Stepan produces offense? He led New York in point production during even strength play. He had an even strength scoring rate of 2.19 P/60. To put that in context, the team’s next two highest producers per sixty minutes of even strength were Miller and Mats Zuccarello who both put up 1.90 P/60 this past season.
The American-born center was tied for 43rd (minimum of 100 minutes played) in power play production per sixty minutes. He had 14 power play points this year. It sure would make everyone feel better if Stepan put up elite power play numbers, but he doesn’t.
His shot suppression rate isn’t inspiring on his “HERO” chart, but with a little bit of context it makes more sense.
Stepan had the toughest zone deployment of any Rangers center not named Dominic Moore. He also had the highest Corsi QoC (Average Corsi of opposing players) of any Rangers forward at even strength.
Nash is often applauded for his defensive responsibility and his penalty killing. Stepan saw 1:43 SH TOI/G last season, Nash played 1:22 SH TOI/G.
Stepan played tough minutes against tough competition and still put up solid production numbers this year. He may not yet be what some Rangers fans want him to be, but he’s a very valuable top-six center that can still get better despite being 26 years old.
Stepan is a tricky player to evaluate for me. Last offseason I gave Derek Stepan a grade of "B" for his play in a pivotal contract season. One year later I'm giving him a slightly better grade.
We often hear the phrase “complete center” when we talk about him. Looking at his zone deployment and his playmaking ability, it’s easy to understand how he has earned that label.
Despite Rick Nash missing significant time and having an “off” season (that phrase gets confusing with the whole off season/offseason thing) Stepan still produced. He scored three shorties, 14 power play points, and set a new career high in goals.
What is most concerning about Stepan is that with a $6.5 million AAV and cap hit he has yet to score 60 points in a season. The Rangers are going to need him to make a bigger impact on the box score next season with all of the question marks about the team’s offense and power play moving forward.
Some good news for Stepan is that Nash has plenty of room to improve from last season. Also, with Miller’s emergence as a legitimate top-six forward we should expect an improvement in Stepan’s counting stats.
So, how would you grade Stepan’s 2015-16 season? Do you think a B+ is fair? Too generous? Too harsh? Let me know in the comments.
(Note: “HERO” Charts from Own the Puck)