Friday, November 26, 2010

Derek Stepan: Stepping His Game Up To the Calder?

It was just a week ago where right here I pondered the future of the lineups when everyone came back and said the real key to the decisions that would be made would be Derek Stepan.  The options that were on the table were either Stepan proves he can play with the top guys, he ends up stuck with the fourth liners or maybe even he gets sent to Hartford.  Since that point some things have changed for the 20 year old Badger product who has just opened his career on Broadway.  Stepan the night of that article was given his chance to center the Rangers top line and best player in Marian Gaborik and while yes it is a short sample size he has responded beautifully.  In the week that has followed my musings not only has Stepan shown that he can play with the top guys when he has his game going, but now the conversation shifts to another subject; can he win the Calder?  It is somewhat crazy to go from talking about a player going to the minors one week to maybe being the top rookie in the league the next, but let us look at Stepan’s resume and that of his competition.

Overall Derek Stepan is tied for second in the league among rookies with 13 points trailing only Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes who currently has 17 points and tied for third in both goals and assists.  Skinner has been excellent for the Hurricanes including a big performance against the Rangers, but until last week he was getting advantages over Stepan in the sheer volume of ice he was seeing.  Stepan currently averages on 14:47 per game in time on ice, which is mainly because of his demotion down to the fourth line earlier this year when he hit a lull in his game.  Stepan did the work to respond and now that he has kicked his game back into gear he is getting and in his last four games is getting 18:42 per game in ice.  Along with the increased ice has come the increased production as Derek is currently on a five game point streak in which he has collected six points (2G, 4A) and has eight points (2G, 6A) in his last seven games.

The other main competitors for the Calder outside of Skinner and Stepan would include Edmonton's talented young players Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall; San Jose's Logan Couture and the player on the best team of the bunch right now P.K. Subban of the Canadiens.  Certainly cannot leave out Bobrovsky and Neuvirth as candidates in the net either.

Obviously for any serious contention on the Calder to occur he will have to continue his hot play, but the brightest sign for Stepan right now might be that he is doing this with Marian Gaborik not even playing that well.  Once Gaborik gets going to combine with the flashes Stepan has shown in his vision and passing ability the numbers could take off to another level not to mention it will create lots of space for Stepan to use his shot more.  If there is one gripe about Stepan it is that he does not look to shoot the puck enough with only 35 shots on goal in 23 games, which is not enough to keep teams honest against him.  Stepan shooting the puck more will create opportunities for him to score but also his teammates on rebounds and create more space for his passing skills at other points in the game just because they have to respect the threat of the shot.

Yes it has only been a week since the possibility of Stepan going to Hartford was discussed, but in that week he has been elevated to the top line and played like a top 6 forward.  He will need to continue his play in order to stay where he is in the lineup and if he does that by the end of the season he will no longer be quietly stepping into the Calder discussion he might just be running it.  This former Badger exploded on the scene when he opened on Broadway then production dropped, but now that the show is on track again setting itself up for an increase in show orders thus it is time for everyone to buy their tickets before it is sold out on the journey to Toronto and the Calder.  Tonight is the next showing of this production at the Florida Panthers and I know for one I already have my ticket to see it.