A Look at Derek Stepan

In the 2008 Entry Draft the New York Rangers selected Derek Stepan in the second round with the fifty-first overall pick. Less than three years later, Stepan is nearing the close of an admirable performance as a rookie during the 2010-11 season. With no offense to Artem Anisimov, it has been some time since the Rangers have had a promising rookie forward in the lineup that looks as though he deserved the hype he received in camp and during the offseason before his rookie campaign. Join me for more after the jump...

Stepan, who is only 20 years old, is third on the team in points, tied for third in goals with Marian Gaborik, and is fourth among forwards in average ice time per game with 16:23. Needless to say the rookie pivot has been asked to do a lot for the club and has handled the responsibility well. Has Stepan been sensational? No, he hasn't. But he has shown maturity, talent, endurance, and poise this season, all of which are qualities you would hope to find in a top prospect. One need not look further than his play in the 2010 World Junior Championship to see his penchant for big plays in big games.

Something I have been very pleased with regarding Stepan is that he has yet to hit the wall that many players who go from college hockey to NHL hockey hit in their first year (Matt Gilroy comes to mind). The length of a regular season in the NHL is twice as long as a college season and many rookies that make the jump from the college to the pro game find themselves running out of gas and seeing their production drop in the third quarter of the year. We should all watch Stepan's game and production closely in the final quarter of his rookie season, not only to see if he can continue elude the ‘college wall', but also to see if his stats improve on his third quarter.

First 4 5 29
Second 7 7 46
Third 4 6 45

Stepan's second quarter was easily his best thus far. After dropping a hat trick in his first game against Buffalo Stepan had a rather modest rest to his first quarter, which would eventually land him on the fourth line. His second quarter saw him rebound back to form, almost double his shot production, and increase his goal and assist production in the process. I attribute a slight drop off in scoring in the third quarter partially due to the poor play of the club during this time, injuries, the reintegration of injured players, and Stepan adjusting to the long season.

Where Stepan Needs Improvement: It is no secret that rookie centers struggle against tougher competition on the faceoff dot when they enter the NHL and Stepan is no exception. It should be noted that Stepan was not a great faceoff man in Wisconsin. Thus far Stepan is 38% in faceoffs, which is dead last among Rangers centers. There has been some talk about Stepan being moved to the wing, which is something that Torts has experimented with already. One can imagine that Stepan will be working on his faceoffs during the offseason and will also be looking to add some muscle to his 6'0" frame.

Though Mats Zuccarello and Wojtek Wolski have been with the club for a fraction of the season, it is clear that they have developed chemistry with Stepan. It will be interesting to see if that line stays together as the season draws to a close, or if injuries to the Rangers' roster prompt the line to be broken apart. Stepan has exhibited that he possesses both talent and vision and has the potential to be a great playmaker. A quick look at his college stats tells you what kind of player Stepan has the potential to be.

U. of Wisconsin 2008-09 9 24
U. of Wisconsin 2009-10 12 42

So what exactly do the Rangers have with Derek Stepan? It would appear that the Rangers have a very promising young player with the capacity for leadership, a history of high performance in big games, tremendous talent and playmaking ability, and a very bright future ahead of him in New York. Is he potentially a top line center? That depends on how he continues to develop and largely on if he can improve his performance on the faceoff dot. There is a lot to like about Derek Stepan and his game; it is my hope that he is an asset the club holds onto for a very long time, as all signs point to him being a very special player.