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Derek Stepan: Calder Candidate

When all is said and done he may not get significant attention but Derek Stepan deserves Calder consideration…if he maintains his play. While this year’s Calder may be heading toward a goaltender (think Bobrovsky, Neuvirth and Lindback) there are a few worthy skaters making waves this season and the Rangers young center doesn’t need to hide behind any of them.

While the Sharks’ Logan Couture has 18 goals – fourth in the league – he is playing on a power house team. With Jeff Skinner playing a key role for a middling Carolina team and Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall trying to take Edmonton back to respectability it’s Stepan who has played a range of roles for a re-building franchise while playing considerably less minutes per game than the four freshman skaters named above. What’s more, Stepan has a better plus/minus than the rest of the top 5 rookie scorers aside from Couture, displaying his now well documented maturity playing well both ends of the ice. Stepan has gained the trust of Tortorella through his play and is showing excellent consistency since his brief dip in play earlier in the year.

Perhaps the most interesting issue worth monitoring is whether Stepan can avoid the college brick wall which many NCAA players hit when going to the longer season (Matt Gilroy faced this last year). The other rookie scorers all played the longer junior schedule while Couture has an additional season of pro hockey (split between the AHL and NHL) already under his belt. Stepan is on course for 22 goals as a rookie and over 40 points. If he can avoid that college brick wall he may get more than 40 as his game and consistency has come on as the year has gone on. Not only that, despite his good college career, Stepan is doing all this as a less heralded player than those around him in the statistics. Taylor Hall went first overall, Logan Couture was top 10 in the draft, as was Jeff Skinner in 2010, and even Eberle was a first round pick – Stepan is the only player of the five forwards that wasn’t a first rounder making his immediate NHL impact even more impressive. Then there’s the goalies, Neuvirth and Bobrovsky are both playing behind legitimate cup contenders making their acclimatisation much easier. Imagine the numbers Lundqvist -as a freshman – might have put up had he played in front of Pronger and Timonen instead of the likes of Jason Strudwick and Thomas Pock.

All this boils down to giving Stepan the due he deserves. His play warrants Calder consideration and if he keeps it up there’s no doubt he’ll be in the mix come the end of the year. It would be pretty appropriate if, in the Rangers transition year, it was to culminate in a rookie of the year award. Here’s hoping.

By the way… Merry Christmas everyone!!!

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