Friday, March 18, 2011

Rangers Need More From Derek Stepan Down The Stretch

For the New York Rangers offensive production is something that is a constant problem in terms of finding consistency.  The team has shown an ability to explode for huge goal scoring games, but then they go into prolonged droughts where they can muster two goals, at most, per game.  They obviously need scoring from their veteran players and those guys have started to come around of late.  In addition they need some of the young players who have produced for much of the season to bring their game back up again.  One player the Rangers are going to need more from down the stretch if they are going to maintain their playoff position is rookie Derek Stepan.
The Rangers have asked a lot of Stepan at different points in the year and he has responded well to all the challenges they have given him.  Overall Stepan has put up and impressive 39 points (18-21) on the season.  He has been as high as the top line with Marian Gaborik and as low as the fourth line. 
The flip side for Stepan has been the lulls in his performance and production has crept in at different points of the season, which is to be expected from young players.  He is currently experiencing one of those lulls as he has recorded only one goal and two assists in the team’s last 8 games, which will not be enough the rest of the way.  In recent games his play and the play of his linemates has made their line fall in the pecking order to fourth once again. 
What has happened previously when Stepan has fallen down the order is that he has gotten back to playing his game and worked his way out of it.  When he has been at his most effective this season it has been when he has added a physical element to his game which has been lacking lately.  Stepan is never going to be a big hitter or anything of the sort, but when he plays with contact his entire game changes because he is more aggressive at the front of the net.  They need him to do this again as it will lift not only his game, but the game of his wingers.
The team has to be happy with the recent surge in the offense, but with the standings as tight as they are they cannot be content relying on the same guys to score each night.  They need others to rise to the occasion down the stretch and Derek Stepan has shown he, as much as anyone, should be expected to increase his level when it counts most.  While not at this level he has been in critical games and performed whether it be helping Wisconsin reach the national championship game or the USA win Gold at the World Juniors both last season, so he can handle the moment.
The 20-year-old rookie has shown he can be an impact player with a knack for scoring goals at key times in the game.  There will come at least one moment in these last 11 games where the Rangers will need Stepan to come through with a goal to tie, win or send a game to overtime and I expect him to rise to the occasion.  At each turn this season Stepan has met the challenge and found another level when his team has really needed it from him and now they need that guy again.  This time of year there is no such thing as a rookie anymore, and Stepan has not carried himself like a rookie all season so the Rangers need him to find his game again and bring the offense back so that he can have a chance to make some history come playoff time.