Going straight from college to the NHL and not missing a beat is no easy feat to accomplish. But, that’s exactly what Derek Stepan did this past season. Forgoing his final 2 years at the University of Wisconsin, Stepan signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers on June 9 and was poised to make an impact in training camp. The former 2008 2nd round draft pick impressed John Tortorella & co. so much so that when captain Chris Drury went down with a broken finger late in September, Derek Stepan was tabbed to replace Drury on the opening night roster. The rest, as they say, is history…
Let’s take a closer look at Derek Stepan’s rookie season with the Rangers:
What We Expected
The Rangers’ fan base knew that Derek Stepan was a special prospect but by no means did they expect him to make the Rangers right away. They watched in 2010 at the IIHF World Championships as Stepan, the captain of Team USA, lead the tournament in scoring with 14 points (4g, 10a) and lead his team to a gold medal win in OT against Canada. Along with a solid showing at the Traverse City Prospect Tournament, Derek Stepan possessed all the momentum heading in to training camp. However, the Rangers had a wealth of player at centers to examine and make decisions about before the season began. Artem Anisimov, Erik Christensen, Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal, and newcomer Todd White were all vying for their respective spots on the team. Injuries would be a factor as Prospal would not be ready for the season rehabbing his knee and Drury broke his finger late in September, leaving a place for Stepan to claim.
How He Did
Remarkably well for his first season in the NHL. After an impressive training camp, Stepan made history on opening night on Oct. 9th, scoring a hat trick in his first NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres, becoming the 2nd player in franchise history to score a hat trick in the season opener and the 4th player in NHL history to score a hat trick in his NHL debut. A fast start for the 20-year-old but he would display at times during the season deft hands and playmaking abilities. As an example check out his “tuck-in” goal from Dec 23rd against the Tampa Bay Lightning below
Stepan would finish his rookie campaign with 45 points (21g, 24a), 5th best amongst rookies. Additionally, “Step” was also one of 5 Rangers to finish with 20 goals and finished 4th in average ice time among forward with 16:27.
Final Grade: B+
From the moment he stepped on the ice in September, Derek Stepan looked like he belonged in the NHL. You never saw any passiveness in his game at any point during the season and that’s a rate trait to see in a 20-year-old player. Even in his post-games, Stepan sounded like he was a 10-year veteran with his maturity and level of understanding of how the game should be played. What impressed the most about Stepan was how each facet of his game was good and showed the potential to grow. He can score goals, possesses good vision to make plays, passes well, plays physical when he needs to and has the hockey sense you look for in winning players. Despite having his rough patches and scoring droughts (which were all expected), Stepan played in all 82 games and displayed a potential to be a top-6 player for the Rangers down the road.
Derek Stepan will be entering the 2nd year of his 3-year entry-level contract. Basically, Step isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. What you do look for is how much Stepan can improve next season and whether he can avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump;” something we saw Michael Del Zotto plagued with this season. One area Stepan can improve on, and pretty much every Rangers center aside from Chris Drury could as well, is face-offs. He finished with a winning % less than 40% (38.52 to be exact). If Drury isn’t on the Rangers next season as it’s been rumored, other plays will have to step up in winning face-offs in key situations. Derek Stepan could easily be one of those players.