Henrik Lundqvist beat out Ryan Callahan in yesterday’s Final Four matchup in Best Ranger since the 2005 lockout tournament. Today, #2 Dan Girardi takes on #4 Derek Stepan in the other Final Four matchup, with the winner facing Hank for the tournament title. We want to thank Matt Josephs of Blue Line Station (Twitter: 11Matt_Josephs8) for pitching this idea to us. It was a great success and we hope you had as much fun voting as we did posting and seeing the results.
Dan Girardi (acquired – 2006 undrafted free agent)
Girardi is this team’s version of a Cinderella story. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the OHL’s Guelph Storm (and Ryan Callahan’s teammate), Girardi was never a noted scorer, which is why he was never noticed. But the Rangers noticed him (presumably) while scouting Cally, and signed him to an AHL deal in the summer of 2005. They didn’t sign him to an NHL contract until 2006 after impressing in the ECHL and AHL. After his deal, he played another 45 games in the AHL before sticking with the big club permanently.
Over the next six seasons, Girardi missed a total of just four (!!) games. When you take into account the minutes (sometimes up to 30) he plays and the number of shots he blocks, that’s an impressive feat. Girardi isn’t a noted scorer (31-123-154 in his career), but he’s one of the best shutdown defensemen in the game today. Girardi has been the steady rock on defense, and players such as Fedor Tyutin, Marc Staal, and Ryan McDonagh have flourished while playing with him. Girardi was given the ‘A’ when Staal went down with his injuries, and it’s no mystery as to why.
Derek Stepan (acquired – 2008 draft, 2nd round)
Stepan emerged as the Rangers top center this past season, scoring at almost a point per game in the lockout shortened season. His 18-26-44 line led the team in scoring, which says a lot considering this was a roster with Rick Nash. He was the team leader in assists, points, and was second to Nash in goals. His NHL totals in three years are pretty solid at 56-84-140 in 212 games. For those keeping track, 212 games is three full seasons without missing a single game.
Stepan is currently unsigned, but there should be a deal in place before the season starts.
To get to this point, Girardi beat #13 Lauri Korpikoski, #5 Vinny Prospal, #1 Marc Staal, and #2 Brandon Dubinsky. Stepan is the tournament Cinderella story, and is the only one to beat a #1 and #2 seed in his region to advance.
So who do you think is the better Ranger, Girardi or Stepan? Vote thumbs up for the higher seed (Girardi), or thumbs down for the lower seed (Stepan). Voting ends at midnight tonight.