Kreider is only of several draftees from the US system (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
When you look at the current Rangers roster, there are plenty of examples how the Rangers have successfully looked to the American hockey program and how the franchise has a preference for American trained players. Whether it be the drafting of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller or Carl Hagelin, the free agent signing of Cam Talbot or the now infamous acquisition of Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers have had significant success with their recent focus on US trained players.
It goes beyond the current roster. The Rangers system currently boasts several players who have either come through the US development program or the NCAA system. Whether it be Conor Allen, Ryan Bourque or Danny Kristo already at the pro level, or prospects such as ‘Boo’ Nieves, Steve Fogarty and Brady Skjei still in college, the Rangers have continued to look toward the US system for success.
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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.
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It’s the time in hockey season where rumours are rampant. Ryan Callahan is apparently already half way out the door, the Rangers are apparently in bed with Martin St Louis and apparently Glen Sather will ‘check in’ on Ryan Kesler. All of these rumours have legs to some degree, so when you hear Derek Stepan’s name mooted as a piece Vancouver may want back for any Kesler deal, it does make you question the moving pieces.
The Rangers, for the long term, cannot afford to move Stepan. Not just because he is a home grown, quality player but because too much change is never a good thing. Consider the likely departure of Brad Richards in the summer. Consider also the expiring contracts of Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore. Then throw into the mix the still uncertain future of Derick Brassard (How much is enough? Is he even kept?). There is a legitimate chance in all of this then that the Rangers entire center ice unit changes. Until you realize no team in their right mind would change an entire position over one deadline/off-season. Right, Glen?…
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– Only five players have more game-winning goals than Rick Nash (6).
– Only Alex Ovechkin is averaging more shots per game than Rick Nash (4.1).
– Only nine players have more points against their own division than Mats Zuccarello’s 21.
– Only eight players have more penalty minutes on home ice than Chris Kreider (53). Only Dallas’s Antoine Roussel has actually committed more penalties on home ice than Kreider (20).
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Derek Stepan is one of several players that need to be better
The Rangers have struggled to score consistently all season. Successful teams get the bulk of their scoring from their top six forwards, but no Ranger forward has covered himself in glory this season. Before going on to look at the individual grades at the halfway mark consider this: Mats Zuccarello is leading this team in scoring – a team designed to win the Cup – and is 71st in scoring in the league at time of writing.
Offensively this team will live or die on Rick Nash’s production. As of Wednesday night, 156(!) players had scored more goals than Rick Nash (7 goals, 16 points in 24 games). While his injuries are unfortunate, the peripheral play, extended droughts, and lack of dominance from a player with Nash’s skill and size are a concern. Nash is making $7.8 million and is the team’s most gifted forward, but rarely has he come close to earning his salary or leading the Rangers offense. A team with limited skill need more from their sole elite forward, Nash needs a strong second half if the Rangers are going to have success.
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The Rangers were able to salvage their franchise-record homestand with wins over Minnesota and Toronto, but things still need to change if the Blueshirts are going to turn their season around.
New York’s 27th-ranked offense has been carried by the likes of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Benoit Pouliot over the last two weeks, while the team’s top players continue to struggle. Rick Nash hasn’t scored in any of his last six games, and has just one goal in his last nine. Brad Richards hasn’t scored in eight games and Derek Stepan has just three goals in his last 23 games. Not coincidentally, those cold streaks have coincided with the team’s worst stretch of the season.
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Norm Hull/Getty Images
Last night, the Rangers lost their 2013-2014 opener in Phoenix. It was neither pretty nor particularly encouraging. Sure, there were some bright spots; Brad Richards showed signs of life, Marc Staal looked great and the defense as a whole looked much more active in the offensive zone.
Since the pre-season started, the staff here at BSB has been preaching patience. There has been a ton of upheaval even though there was very little roster turnover from last year’s team. Not only has there been the difficulty of a coaching change and all new systems implementation, but the Blueshirts start the season on a 9-game road trip.
Derek Stepan got a late start on camp due to his contract situation and two top-6 forwards in Callahan and Hagelin are out to start the season; not to mention the disappointing camp from Chris Kreider.
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How will Zuccarello fare this season?
Today it all begins. The Rangers open their season today as the season, tone setting, nine game road trip gets under way tonight in Phoenix. Let’s jump straight into the first Musings of the new season.
It will be interesting to see how Derek Stepan starts tonight. Will he be a step behind? Will the lack of reps, preseason games, training camp, and a new system implementation hurt him? He’s going to be under the microscope and has a lot of responsibility to shoulder.
A player that could thrive under Alain Vigneault’s (apparently) more open system could be Michael Del Zotto. Like so many Rangers, this is a big year for him. Is he finally going to put it all together and be a consistent offensive threat from the blueline? Or does he become expendable after this season? A good year from MDZ likely means an improved Rangers PP.
Most unpredictable player heading into tonight? Mats Zuccarello.
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According to Elliotte Friedman, Derek Stepan and the New York Rangers have agreed to terms on a 2-year deal. The value is estimated in the $6.5 million range, but is yet unconfirmed. Looks like Sather got his bridge deal, after all. Welcome back Step, now get to work.
For those that missed it, General Manager Glen Sather had some harsh words for holdout center Derek Stepan. Slats, in a rare moment, said that he doesn’t think [Stepan] is a big enough fool to think that he will sit out the year and it will do any good.” Naturally, that was the line that the media caught on to and ran with. The nugget right after –when Slats states that every player (forward) has signed a gap deal, and that what Stepan will get– is the more important bit. It confirms what we all know, but also puts a line in the sand in the negotiations.
First things first, Slats never called Stepan a fool. He chose his words carefully. Slats is also correct in the bridge deals, not in that every team should offer bridge deals, but in the manner that Slats approaches them. He is consistent. Every non-arbitration forward gets a bridge deal. Every single one. It’s consistency at its finest. Both Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan got paid, Dubinsky likely slightly overpaid, after their bridge deals. Callahan is the captain of the team too, and his bridge deal will likely be less than Stepan’s.
Some call what Slats said a desperation move. I call it a simple candid statement, used to send a message. Everyone else got one, you get one too. Get your head on straight and sign, and we will pay you oodles of money in two years if you continue to perform.