Again big thanks to Loyal Anonymous Reader (LAR) for the above graphic, which shows the goal locations for each of Derek Stepan’s 18 goals this season. As you can tell from the picture, Stepan’s game is to get to the front of the net for deflections, rebounds, and otherwise dirty goals. He did this for 16 of his 18 goals, and I’d bet that only Ryan Callahan can match him in goals from the front of the net.
What is interesting to see is that all of his powerplay goals have come from in front of the net, despite the fact that he has seen time on the off-wing and on the point. It’s one of those signs that shows how effective he is in front with his hands. Cally will screen the goalie and collect rebounds, but Stepan adds a great ability to deflect pucks on net. In a theoretical 1-3-1, you’d want Cally in front for the dirty work and Stepan as the high slot man for deflections and passes.
When you look at Rick Nash’s goal locations you see that he is slightly more spread out, showing a pure shooting and game breaking skill that makes him a danger anywhere on the ice. Stepan is not on that level, but he’s becoming someone the opposition can’t ignore, especially when in front of the net.
Another aspect that LAR included with Stepan’s goal locations, since this is very obvious where he scores from, is the number of primary assists Stepan accumulated this season. Of his 26 assists, 18 were primary assists. While there are some flaws to counting just primary assists (sometimes the secondary assist is the better pass that sets up the goal), it shows how involved Stepan is in creating offense. It also shows how crucial he is to the team.
Stepan has taken a giant leap forward this year, and proven a lot of his doubters wrong. His hockey IQ is second to none on this club, which makes it easier for him to get to the open ice and create offense, either by the pass or by the shot. Prime years for a forward are between ages 24-29, so Stepan is beginning to enter that phase. If he can continue to progress, he will become –if he hasn’t already– the full-time first line center.
Again, thanks to LAR for the image, great work.