Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rangers Player Review: Derek Stepan Lays Foundation For Bright Future

Each year prospects seek to make the transition from other levels of hockey to the National Hockey League.  This season Derek Stepan looked to make that transition straight from the college ranks to the NHL and he did so better than anyone could have expected.  There were certainly ups and downs during the course of the 82 game schedule, but to count the overall results as anything less than a huge success would be a disservice not only the year Stepan had, but what it showed for the future.  Scoring 21 goals, and playing in all 82 games is a tremendous foundational season the 20-year-old will look to build upon next year.

The goal and point numbers give the Rangers hope for what Stepan can become in the future, but beyond the stats, what was most impressive about this rookie is that he never seemed overwhelmed by the moment and had a penchant for rising to it.  The number of clutch goals and plays that he made as a rookie is something that no one could have expected from him and it is based on how he thinks the game and puts himself in the right position, but also that determination and competitive side of him.  Also in terms of not be overwhelmed by a moment, Stepan responded to whatever role the Rangers asked him to play and each time his play dipped there was no sulking from the young player, rather a determination to get his game back to where he needs it to be. 

What you notice most about Stepan on the ice is how technically sound he is in all facets of the game.  He has the skill to be a great passer, the finish to score goals, enough speed and shiftiness to succeed, but it is how he thinks the game that has him in the right position so often on both ends of the ice.  To be 20-years-old and be that responsible on both ends of the ice while having the offensive skills to be a force in the future gives the Rangers fans something to be excited about.

If the Rangers can give Stepan quality players to play with and leave a grouping together next season you will see more consistency in his individual production.  The utter lack of consistency in the players he was playing with from game-to-game or even shift-to-shift made the season Stepan was able to put as a rookie.

Another issue for the Rangers to work out with Stepan will be how they use him on the power play.  Due to the lack of a competent power play quarterback this season, Stepan was used on the point and that is not where he can be most effective.  As was seen during the recently completed IIHF World Championships, while playing for Team USA, Stepan can be very effective on the power play when he plays down low along the left-wing wall.  Playing in that spot allows Stepan to meld his passing and scoring skills while seemingly quarterbacking the power play from that spot.

Speaking of the World Championships, Stepan was arguably the best forward for Team USA during the tournament.  In the 7 games that Team USA played, Stepan recorded seven points (two goals, five assists) and scored in every game except the quarterfinal loss to the Czech Republic.  The experience playing in the tournament, and the success that he had should only fuel Stepan towards a big second season

In addition you notice in Stepan leadership qualities that tell you that he will likely wear a letter within the next few seasons for this organization.  Add to that the fact that this is a genuinely good young man and the Rangers have yet another quality player, person to build the core of their team around.