We’re nearing the end of our Best Rangers of the Past Decade countdown and today’s focus is on the best center the Rangers have had over the past decade, a homegrown player through and through.
#3 Derek Stepan
Career as a Ranger: 2010-2017
Numbers as a Blueshirt: 128 goals, 232 assists for 360 points in 515 games played (1.94 Pts/60). 50.67 CF% (1.49 C/60), 52.93 xGF% (0.3 xG/60). 59.7 GAR, 11.1 WAR
Best Season as a Ranger: 2013-14: 17 goals, 40 assists, for 57 points in 82 games
He was never the fastest, biggest, or strongest player for the Rangers. He played at time where Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Claude Giroux, and John Tavares were all at the height of their powers and all in the same division. Through it all though, Derek Stepan was a great New York Ranger.
Stepan’s Rangers career began with a bang as he put up a hat trick in his first career game against the Sabres. From there it was off to the races for Step as he grew into a solid two-way center for the Rangers and eventually played his way into the 1st line center position, earning the tough assignments against some of the best in the league and managing to hold his own through all of it.
As Step’s two-way game developed, his playmaking skills and hockey IQ flourished as Step continuously pushed 60 points throughout his Rangers career. As the Rangers grew as a team, Step grew right alongside cementing his place as a bona fide top line center and developing into an integral part of the Rangers’ new homegrown core that featured winger Chris Kreider and defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
It’s no coincidence that the Rangers’ best season of the decade also coincided with Derek Stepan’s best season in a Blueshirt. Through the golden years of 2013-14, 2014-15, and even 2015-16 the Rangers were one of the best teams in the league and a big part of that was their strength down the middle with the constant being #21 up top. It wasn’t just in the regular season that Step proved his worth, as he continued his steady, strong play when the Rangers needed it the most.
Especially in 2013-14 after he served as additional emotional momentum after he had his jaw broken by Brandon Prust during the Eastern Conference Final only to come back the next night to score two goals and push the Rangers closer and closer to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
Like all great things though, Derek Stepan’s run on Broadway came to an end as the Rangers began shifting into the future when they dealt the center to the Arizona Coyotes along with goalie Antti Raanta for the 7th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and Tony DeAngelo. It was the first move in what was called at the time a “rebuild on the fly” that eventually became a full-blown tear down by the next deadline.
Favorite moment as a Ranger: Probably the most obvious selection on this list. The Rangers had stormed back from being down 3-1 in the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, they had made to Game Seven at MSG. It was overtime, one more goal and they’re going back to the Eastern Conference Finals; Enter Stepan.