Too many times this season, Derek Stepan – no longer a kid on the Rangers roster – has been a passenger. Despite having 48 points (on course for 55), most people consider his season an underwhelming one, which speaks to Derek’s talent and just how much fans expect of him. Stepan needs to be involved and needs to generate offense for his wingers for the Rangers to be successful. Recently, Stepan has improved and it bodes well for the stretch drive.
With 11 points in his last 10 games, Stepan has started to find some consistency including four goals in his last eight games. It goes beyond the numbers though. Using his goal last night against the Blue Jackets as an example, Stepan is going to the dangerous areas on the ice where he is more involved. He’s going to the net, he’s playing between the circles and recently, he’s looking to use his underrated shot more than he has for most of the season. Five games in a row, Stepan has registered at least two shots on net and looks more involved in games than at any other stage of the season.
The Rangers cannot make the playoffs without their top six producing and only Mats Zuccarello and Stepan have generated consistent production recently. With Chris Kreider’s form up and down (to be expected from a rookie), Rick Nash still inconsistent and Martin St Louis still struggling to make an impact, the burden on players such as Stepan and Zuccarello increases, especially with an underperforming power play.
Beyond this season it goes without saying that the Rangers need Stepan to take the next step. His lockout shortened season of a year ago suggested point per game potential. So, if the Rangers are going to be a consistent contender for the Cup long term – with Richards’ eventual departure leaving a hole at center – Stepan is essential to the Rangers hopes. Hopefully his recent upturn in form is a positive sign to the future, and the here and now.