Derek Stepan has been a bit of a revelation for the Rangers. The first homegrown prospect that came in as a legitimate offensive threat, Stepan has dazzled many with his tremendous first two seasons in New York. He has played a full 164 games in those two seasons, and has put together a very nice line of 38-58-96. He has been better than expected over the course of the regular season. But it’s the playoffs that have many worrying.
In nine playoff games thus far, Stepan has failed to record a point. Even worse, Stepan has barely been noticeable. Anton Stralman has usurped control of his spot on the point on the powerplay, and Stepan has even seen time on the fourth line this series.
Stepan is scoreless in his last nine contests, and has just four goals since March 1. This could be written off as a rough patch, but the problem is that this happened to Stepan last season as well. In the final month of last season and the first round of the playoffs, Stepan again only record four goals. If last season was a result of the proverbial NCAA wall, then what is this season?
Looking deeper into the numbers, Stepan may be a bit invisible this postseason, but he’s not exactly “useless” as so many people are saying. This postseason, Stepan has been facing the second highest quality of competition among the forwards (Qualcomp of .370*). Despite facing higher quality of competition, Stepan still maintains a high RCorsi (puck possession metric) of 14.6*. While not the best on the team, it is still a high positive number, which means Stepan and his linemates have had the puck more often than the opponent.
*- Small sample sizes
Both his Qualcomp and RCorsi are up significantly from the last postseason. Stepan is improving, even if we don’t necessarily see it on the scoreboard. So if his metrics are good, why the scoring issue?
Part of the problem has to do with shots. Stepan has just seven shots on goal this postseason, an average of just over one per game. In the regular season, he had 169 shots over 82 games, an average of just over two shots per game. So Stepan is actually shooting half as much in the postseason. The problem was the same last postseason, where Stepan took just four shots in five games.
For some unknown reason, Stepan just isn’t shooting the puck, and that is likely the key reason why he has been invisible in the playoffs. It is probably just a case of thinking too much, as many young players do in the playoffs. His hesitance to shoot may also be why John Tortorella removed him from the powerplay.
This issue of not shooting isn’t just limited to Stepan (only two players have double digit shot totals), but it seems to have a greater effect on the young center. Stepan needs to shoot to be effective. The good thing is that this is a correctable issue, he just needs to start firing the puck at the net. As we’ve seen in this series, good things happen when the pucks go on net. It’s a lesson Stepan –and the rest of his teammates– need to learn very quickly.