Archive for Derek Stepan
I’m spoiling you. As I head to New York myself on Tuesday morning I thought I would muse for the second time in a week. Sometimes we go weeks without ‘musings’ sometimes I have a lot I want to say so let’s jump into it.
Marc Methot gets 19.6 million, makes Ottawa make Glen Sather look savy. I too am absolutely sensitive about Marc Staal’s contract. He comes with a huge health warning and will probably never be the truly dominant player he could have become but Marc Methot getting close to 5m a year makes Staal’s deal look more than fine (health allowing). Staal has more offensive upside than Methot and teams also pay for numbers.
If they’re comparable defensively it’s probably only because Staal has had a couple so-so years recently. In addition, Methot may be one of the few top four defenseman around the league that is even more injury prone than Staal. The price for defensemen continues to get out of control.
The Rangers may be quiet at the deadline through no fault of their own. Many of their apparent targets are gone. Santorelli is in Nashville, and a few players linked to the franchise like Patrick Kaleta are injured past the deadline.
What was meant to be an organisational weakness has become a strength for the New York Rangers. Understandably, there is instant angst when Derek Stepan misses any game time because of injury and his absence certainly creates a hole in the line-up but the Rangers have to be delighted with the way the center position has developed this season.
A quick glance around the league and in terms of depth, the centers that make up the Rangers’ top two lines (so, Stepan and Derick Brassard) measure up against the best in the league. Only the all world double acts in Pittsburgh (Crosby, Malkin), Detroit (Zetterberg and Datsyuk), San Jose’s trio of centers (Thornton, Pavelski and Couture) and Stamkos and Johnson in Tampa are currently projecting to have at least two centers average higher points totals than Brassard and Stepan.
It’s the half way point in the season and our collective egos are such that we like to hand out some mid-season grades to your New York Rangers. Dave got the ball rolling with the goaltending and coaching grades and I have been tasked with the top six forwards so let’s jump on in.
Rick Nash: 40GP 26G 15A 41Pts +17 4 GWG 4 PPG 3SHG
There really is only one player to start with and that’s the NHL’s leading goal scorer. Nash has had a first half to dream of. He’s been healthy, he’s been dominant at both ends of the ice, he’s been consistent (including a point streak of 11 games), he’s been clutch and he’s been everything you could ask for in a potential Hart Trophy candidate. That’s the level Nash has been at – Hart Trophy level.
Club bias aside I – and many others – think Nash could reasonably be in the mix for four major pieces of hardware at the end of the season: Hart (MVP), Selke (defensive forward), Ted Lindsay award (players MVP) and the Richard trophy (top goal scorer). Having a breath taking year.
Derek Stepan: 28GP 6G 21A 27pts +9 8 PPP 4 SHP
Stepan is a difficult one to grade. He still hasn’t developed in the faceoff circle (something that is holding him back from being a legitimate top line center), and he needs to use his shot more; he passes up on far too many quality shooting opportunities, but as a playmaker Stepan has elevated his game to another level this year.
Stepan’s passing and vision are routinely excellent and he didn’t show much rust coming back from his injury. Averaging almost a point per game, Stepan has shown real consistency in his play as a pass first center while he has made a real difference on both special teams units. Wherever Stepan is, he usually has made a positive difference. If he would shoot a little more he would be even more dangerous.
Marty St Louis: 40GP 14G 18A 32pts 12PPP
St Louis is no longer the top line, 100 point winger he once was however he’s still proving he can be a force on the ice and has shown that he’s a leader on this relatively young Rangers team. St Louis has been streaky this year and has had games where he has been completely invisible, something that the Rangers have been able to tolerate because they’ve received fairly balanced scoring this year. However, despite the occasional goal scoring drought and playing in Nash’s shadow, St Louis is still closing in on another 60+ point season which for a player approaching his 40th birthday is hugely impressive.
St Louis is still lethal on the powerplay, he still commands the attention of the opposition and he is still capable of scoring in bunches something that only really he and Nash can do on this Ranger team. St Louis has been good. Hopefully his best will come at the end of the year.
Chris Kreider: 38GP 8G 12A 20pts +9 83Hits
If these grades were based on the last week or two, Kreider’s would be more positive but they’re not. Kreider has endured an inconsistent, frustrating and difficult year and yet he still has a chance to set a career high in goals, assists and points with a solid second half. Perhaps the expectations were too high, but Kreider has struggled in his own end, has endured long slumps, has played recklessly and has been somewhat of a turnover machine. With that all said we’ve seen Kreider dominate teams when he’s on his game, he’s physically imposing and offers the Rangers (and the opposition) something only Rick Nash can do on this team. If Kreider has a strong second half – assuming Nash and St Louis are still firing – it would likely mean the Rangers are flying through the schedule.
Derick Brassard: 38GP 11G 22A 33pts 14 PPP
Brassard has finally developed a level of consistency that does his talent justice (although I haven’t yet forgiven him for his horrendous follow up miss against the Isles). While he has undoubtedly been the beneficiary of Rick Nash’s return to prominence he has also helped Nash do what he has done. Brassard has shown an incredible array of passing, creativity perhaps only rivalled by Mats Zuccarello and has been a powerplay monster with 14 points with the extra man – tops on the Rangers.
Brassard has been much like Stepan, the owner of a wicked shot that he should use more. This season we’ve started to see him do just that – shoot – and no shock, he’s begun to rack up the points. Brassard is on course to smash his career highs in all major categories and is proving Glen Sather’s faith in him to be a smart investment. Brassard has been dynamic, a bargain at 5m, and has fully established himself as a top six center, and on a contending team no less.
Mats Zuccarello: 38GP 7G 15A 22pts +11
Zuccarello has been inconsistent this year but even during spells where he wasn’t producing he has almost never been found lacking in effort. I still struggle to decide whether Zuccarello is a great third line winger or worthy of a permanent top six spot. At times he has struggled to follow up on his break out year of 2013-14 but still, has been one of the Rangers more dangerous players.
Zuccarello has made minimal impact on special teams but his production at even strength has been relatively consistent; he may be the victim of others succeeding on the PP in his place. Zuccarello is similar in one way to Kreider; if coach Vigneault can generate some consistency from him then the Rangers would be in an envious position.
You see Zuccarello’s talent, his on ice vision and hustle and you can’t help wanting more even expecting more out of him, which perhaps is somewhat unfair. With a strong second half there’s still an outside change Zuccarello can flirt with a second 50 point season. Not bad for an undrafted undersized Norwegian.
The most exciting part of the top six’ performances thus far is that there appears room for improvement. Kreider, Zuccarello and St Louis all have had difficult times this season although every member of the top six have played well at least in spurts. If the Rangers can have their top two lines all firing at the same time, there’s very excit
New York Rangers center Derek Stepan will not return to the game tonight at MSG. Stepan took a nasty slash from Matt Martin in the first period, toughed it out for a bit, but did not play for the second half of the game. The Rangers will probably lose this game tonight (losing 3-0 at the moment), but losing Stepan hurts more if this is long term.
The Rangers start a very tough four game stretch in Anaheim on Wednesday night when they take on the Ducks. With the Sharks, Kings and the vastly improved Islanders all to come during this short, but brutal stretch, the Rangers will find out a lot about the readiness of their team as they look to return to the Stanley Cup final. Perhaps most importantly, this stretch will tell Glen Sather and the Rangers management what they can expect out of their current group of centers.
The group of centers the Rangers will face over the next four games reads like an All Star roster, it really doesn’t get much tougher. It’s reasonable to suggest that all of Getzlaf, Kesler, Carter, Kopitar, Thornton, Couture and John Tavares would all be the Rangers number one center. They are all elite centers capable of dominating opponents and/or putting up elite offense. When out west, the Rangers will again have to cope with the size of the Ducks and Kings. Something they’ve struggled to cope with.
The clamour for top line centers is league wide and certainly nothing new. Every team wants one but not every team has one. The Rangers are in a fortunate position where they have two excellent (and comparatively young) top six centers in Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard but neither would be compared to the Crosby’s, Getzlaf’s and Seguin’s of the league, although both certainly have room for growth.
Long term, people assume the Rangers greatest needs are on defense, addressing a lack of size on the roster and down the middle. You can argue the Rangers lost the Stanley Cup finals because the Kings dominated the center position. Looking at those needs, the Rangers may have answers for their defense and the issue of size coming through the system but do they have a potential top line center in their ranks? Not likely. Which brings us back to Derick Brassard.
Derek Stepan is always a focal point of discussion for Ranger fans. He’s the teams 1C, but he’s not an elite center, so people think he’s better off as a 2C. Since returning from injury, Stepan has put up 14 points in 16 games, and has helped stabilize –prior to Derick Brassard’s mumps diagnosis– the center position. But something is off this year, and it’s fairly alarming.
As Zachary Ellenthal pointed out, he’s not exactly driving possession this season. It’s not like he’s off by a little bit, Stepan is a 43.6% Corsi player this season, so far the worst of his career. The last time he was under 50% was 2011-2012, and his ability to positively drive possession is what makes him more valuable than guys like Tyler Bozak (a 42% Corsi player), who puts up points because he’s playing with Phil Kessel. Stepan makes his teammates better, Bozak does not.
Except for this year. Stepan’s numbers this year are comparable to Bozak’s, and that’s not a good thing.
New York’s problems down the middle began when the team failed to bring in a replacement for Brad Richards and were exacerbated when Derek Stepan broke his fibula during training camp.
But since Stepan’s return to the lineup on November 8th, a bit of normalcy has returned to the Blueshirts. Their 5-5-2 record over that span looks a lot worse thanks to three recent losses to the impressive Tampa Bay Lightning, but Stepan has been a godsend since the moment he rejoined the team.
When we look back on the season at the end of the year, there’s a good possibility that last weekend will represent its low point.
A blown lead against Toronto followed by another embarrassing performance at home against Edmonton seemed unacceptable over the last couple of days, but last night’s 5-0 drubbing of Pittsburgh was a good reminder that the Blueshirts are capable of much more.
Any team can dominate on any given night in the NHL, but only two can say they were in the Stanley Cup Final last year, so the Rangers’ best efforts carry a little more weight than a team like the Oilers.
The Rangers are so shorthanded right now that they’re bringing in Tomas Kaberle to skate with the team today, but that won’t last much longer.
Derek Stepan’s return is imminent, Dan Boyle’s recovery is also in it’s final stages, and John Moore’s suspension will be over after Sunday’s game. Kevin Klein could follow soon after, though no official prognosis has been made on his foot injury.
So how will things change in the coming days and weeks?
For one thing, the return of Stepan and Boyle should, should, get the power play on track. Statistically it can’t be much worse than the three-for-32 slump to start the season (Pittsburgh has 19 power play goals already…), but even a mediocre stretch by the man advantage would mean an extra goal every few games, a not insignificant padding for the patchwork defense. Read More→