This weekend’s guest post comes courtesy of Jordan Ozer (poster: JordanO), who put together a nice Derek Stepan appreciation post. Thanks for the contribution Jordan, great job. As a reminder, if you want to have your own guest post, feel free to email us and let us know. We run these on Sunday’s.
Derek Stepan Appreciation Post
– Jordan Ozer
I am prejudiced to like Derek Stepan. As a student at the University of Wisconsin, I watched from the student section as he put together two very successful seasons at the collegiate level. In 2009-10 he recorded 54 points, which led the NCAA runners-up squad that included eventual NHL’ers in Craig Smith, Blake Geoffrion, Jake Gardiner, and Brendan Smith. Even in college he was more of a distributer than a scorer, tallying 66 assists against 21 goals in 81 collegiate games. After two strong seasons in Wisconsin, he jumped to the pros and made the Rangers out of training camp.
So while my expectations were high going into last season, even the biggest of Stepan optimists could not have predicted that he would burst onto the scene the way he did, beating Ryan Miller three times en route to becoming the fourth player in NHL history to score a hat trick in their debut. Stepan displayed a remarkable maturity that enabled him to successfully make the jump from the NCAA level to the NHL and becoming a budding start in New York City at just 20 years old. One of just four Rangers to play in all 82 games, he finished fourth on the Rangers in goals (21) and points (45).
The remarkable strides in Stepan’s game have come this season. Rather than fall prone to a sophomore slump, Derek has in fact elevated his game, recording 20 points (7 goals and 13 assists) in his first 29 games. Stepan’s play has been improving in all phases this season. He has established a spot on the point for the power play, helping a unit that has moved the puck well and created good chances as of late. He has also contributed on the penalty kill, recently evidenced by his play in the 6-1 win over Buffalo where he took the puck on an end-to-end rush to kill the penalty and finished with a highlight reel goal.
Where last season his ability to be a twenty-goal scorer in the NHL was noteworthy, this season his passing and vision have stood out. His skills as a passer and playmaker have helped him earn a spot on the first line, developing instant chemistry with Artem Anisimov and Marion Gaborik. Stepan’s talents have meshed especially well with Gaborik. The Slovakian winger has been streaky at times with the Rangers, but Stepan has helped him light the lamp with consistency this season. If Stepan continues to play this well, he is likely to be a fixture on the first line for the remainder of the season.
The Rangers have been off to a fast start in 2011, racking up wins with a youthful core. It’s clear that a big part of the future is the 21-year old kid from Hastings, Minnesota: Derek Stepan.