Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Derek Stepan Called "Whole Package"

The recently completed IIHF World Championships tournament over in Slovakia, Rangers center Derek Stepan led Team USA in scoring with two goals and five assists while centering the top line. No matter how he played in the tournament the experience of being there was going to be good for his development.  The way he played only added to that and everyone involved took notice including Team USA coach Scott Gordon.  According to the Sporting News...
Team USA coach Scott Gordon identified Stepan as one of the players he was most impressed with after the tournament was finished, comparing him to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. “I didn’t realize how good Derek Stepan was,” Gordon told Sporting News. “He was pretty impressive not just from a point standpoint but his hockey intelligence. He’s the whole package.”

To hear Gordon say what he did about Stepan only adds to what we witnessed from him all season.  As I wrote this morning in Stepan's player review the most impressive thing about him is his hockey intelligence.  That he is plays both ends of the ice and is so smart adds to what his ceiling could be down the line.

Rumor: Rangers Discussing Bringing Back Jarkko Immonen

One of the things New York Rangers fans love to do most is discuss the idea of second acts for former Rangers.  According to Bruce Berlet at CTWhale.com the organization is doing some of that thinking during their organizational meetings this week in regards to C Jarkko Immonen.

Jarkko Immonen was a dominant force in the recently completed IIHF World Championships with nine goals and three assists in the nine games for Team Finland to help them win a gold medal.  The now 29-year-old center was acquired by the Rangers in the Brian Leetch trade managed to play 20 games in the NHL before going back to Europe following the 2007 season.  He has played well overseas during those four seasons he has played well and might be worth a look this fall to see if he should be brought back as the Rangers still retain his rights.

The fact that they are talking about bringing him back does not mean he will be nor does it mean he will have a roster spot if he is part of training camp this fall.  These are the kind of things you want the organization doing in looking at all their options and then deciding how they want to move forward.  Immonen is certainly not the first line type center this team needs, but he could add depth to the lineup for a cheap price.

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.