Amid all the publicity Brad Richards has received and the analysis he has caused on the internet, the Rangers possess quite a collection of quality young centres behind him. That’s no secret. However, even with multiple (quality) years of Richards to look forward to, it is obviously in the Rangers’ long term interest to develop Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov as much as possible.
It seems natural to expect the Rangers to begin the year keeping the effective, home grown trio of Dubinsky – Anisimov – Callahan together to form an exciting second line; even though Dubinsky at this stage is very much a candidate for the top line left wing spot. That being said, if the trio does stay together it means Derek Stepan either slots on to the left (where some see his future anyway) or if his face off skills develop, Stepan becomes the third line centre. This is where some concern should lie. Is a talent like Stepan being wasted with third line duty? If he received the bulk of his playing time there, he may be the prime candidate for Dave’s previous discussion of potential sophomore slumps.
I don’t think it is ideal to have such a young player, an intelligent player, being bumped down on to the third line. Stepan is ready for a bigger role, in my opinion, and the fact that the Rangers have such quality down the middle is obviously a good problem to have. That said I’d rather see Stepan play out of his natural position and try and play left wing on the top line. Forget your Wolski’s and the like. Has Wolski got a long term future with the Rangers? Barring a spectacular season, no he hasn’t. The pending arrivals of Kreider, Thomas and the like will see to that. However Stepan very much has a future with the organisation.
It’s in the Rangers interest to give Step a key role and let him develop in it. Seriously, how much harm can the young (mature) centre cause alongside Richards and Gaborik anyway? Couldn’t Gaborik in particular, benefit from having not one but two impressive playmakers on his line? Of course he could. Stepan’s role at this stage of the preseason is in flux. There are a lot of potential landing spots for him but in terms of long term development (as an asset as much as, as an individual) Stepan should be a priority this coming season.
PS: I hope everyone was safe over in the US this past weekend. My thoughts were with you all. We don’t get things like Irene in dull, old UK.