Though it has repeatedly been reported that GM Glen Sather considers Derek Stepan “untouchable,” that hasn’t stopped many from debating whether he should be included in trade offers for superstars like Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan.
Anaheim is specifically seeking a #2 center-man as part of a package for Ryan and has almost certainly requested Stepan from the Rangers (if the Ducks considered Artem Anisimov or Brandon Dubinsky to be suitable second-line pivots, it’s very likely that Ryan would already be a Blueshirt).
So should Sather actually consider dealing Stepan for Ryan? There is an argument to be made for each side.
On the one hand, Ryan is a proven goal-scorer, a 30-goal guy that is only just entering his prime. Trading youth for Ryan can’t be considered abandoning young talent, because Ryan himself is only 25-years-old and is already one of the league’s true stars. Ryan could be a terrific second scoring option after Marian Gaborik and could give New York an enviable array of scoring threats.
Perhaps best of all, Ryan is locked up for three more seasons at an extremely reasonable cap hit of $5.1 million and would likely come cheaper via trade than Nash. The Rangers are hell-bent on bolstering their offense and Ryan would represent an immediate upgrade while also providing another core building block for the future.
But while Ryan would undoubtedly look great in blue, dealing Stepan would open another gaping hole on the Rangers’ depth chart. Getting Ryan would ease scoring concerns, but suddenly New York would be left without a second-line center and would have only one true playmaker.
Brad Richards would essentially be left to feed the hungry mouths of goal-scorers Ryan, Gaborik, Chris Kreider and Ryan Callahan. At 22-years-old, Stepan hasn’t even approached his peak yet and could turn into a star. In my opinion, it would be a critical mistake to send Stepan packing.
Beside the fact that I believe Stepan’s ceiling is very high, I’d also be concerned about dealing from a current strength down the middle. The true top teams in the NHL in recent years have all been stocked with solid pivots, from Los Angeles’s group of Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll, to Vancouver’s dynamic duo of Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, to Pittsburgh’s all-world tandem of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
It’s become abundantly clear that having star power down the middle is essential and while the Rangers have a couple of wing prospects that could become goal-scorers in Christian Thomas and J.T. Miller, there may not be another premier playmaking center in the system (Michael St. Croix’s all-around game still makes him a question mark and he could also end up being converted into a wing).
I’m not suggesting that Stepan will ever approach the level of Sedin or Malkin, but slotting him behind Richards gives New York a very solid one-two punch down the middle that is at least a strong foundation to build around for the future. Throughout hockey history, good centers have made their wingers better and Stepan has the potential to do that. I’d prefer to be patient while Stepan and other young players develop to see if the team’s current offensive problems are really as awful as everyone thinks rather than potentially creating more problems down the road.