Archive for Derek Stepan
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→
Dominic Moore became a fan favorite last year and continues to impress now in the 14/15 NHL season. On a team severely lacking depth down the middle of the ice, the Rangers have been able to tread water with Derek Stepan out thanks to the play of Moore. Averaging 12.08 TOI, Moore needed to step up and help out in a 3rd line role and he has done just that. Despite heavy defensive zone starts (-26.83 Off ZS% Rel) Moore has posted outstanding possession numbers at even strength (6.40 Fenwick Rel%). His impact has not gone unnoticed. Moore has received plenty of praise for his early season play but it’s worth looking at a little closer.
Moore is 20th in the NHL of forwards at 5v5 in FA/60 at 30.54 (Fenwick Against is a measure of defense, which looks at shot suppression. For more details click here.). The leader in this category is Colin Wilson of Nashville at 27.22. He ranks 25th in DZFO% in that category as well. So not only is Moore starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive end, but he’s able to suppress shots while generating shots for the Rangers (40.11 FF/60). Not bad at all for your 3rd line center. Moore’s faceoff% of 53.85 certainly has helped in the defensive end.
Per the Rangers Twitter, center Derek Stepan has been cleared for contact, and is wearing a normal colored jersey in practice today. Stepan has been out since the preseason with a broken fibula, and was eligible to return off LTIR today. While it is unlikely he is cleared to play tonight, he will likely be back in the lineup by this weekend.
There’s been quite a gap between the Rangers’ games this week, with the wild comeback against the Wild feeling like an eternity ago. Quite a bit has happened in Rangerland since so let’s take a look around at some of the goings on.
Veterans to the rescue
Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle resume skating. The Rangers cannot get these two players back fast enough. Stepan’s absence had destroyed team depth at center and the Rangers’ issues on defense have been well documented. With the Rangers powerplay needing help, Boyle and Stepan could be the perfect tonic to a unit that has been – at best – underwhelming to this point.
Is the Rangers goaltending pipeline improving?
The Rangers have tried to remedy the lack of depth behind Henrik Lundqvist recently and there’s a few intriguing prospects worth a keeping an eye on. Brandon Halverson typifies the modern goaltender, being a big man at 6’4, and he’s off to a strong start in junior winning 7 games in his first ten appearances although his peripherals (GAA 3.15, S% .904) aren’t exciting. Reports are he’s playing well though.
As Derek Stepan has finally hit the ice with his team mates (albeit in a non contact jersey) the questions will now begin to focus more on where rather than when will Stepan play. Following the excellent instant chemistry Rick Nash has shown with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello the logical thinking will be to try and keep that trio in tact in the short term. Of course, given Nash’s not so pretty possession numbers perhaps Alain Vigneault will consider reuniting Stepan with the Rangers best and hottest forward.
Questions will be raised about Stepan’s match readiness. Will Stepan need to be eased back in? And can Nash be a spark for Stepan the way he appears to have been for Zuccarello and Brassard? The options for Stepan are numerous at this stage. With Stepan’s return almost certainly meaning the end of the Marty St Louis at center experiment, the chances are that Stepan will be paired with St Louis and Kreider, (finally) giving the Rangers two legitimate scoring lines for the first time this season.