While the biggest story to come out of last night’s 3-1, Game 1 win over the Washington Capitals stemmed from Chris Kreider’s game-winning, third-period goal, the improved play of second-year center Derek Stepan again deserves a mention.
Stepan has primary assists on both of Kreider’s goals during the post-season, and for my money has looked a far more engaged player with the former Boston College skater on his wing.
Though I felt Stepan’s sophomore season was reasonably productive, his play did seem to fade down the stretch. But with 20-year old Kreider in the line-up, Stepan’s play has picked-up considerably over the past few games.
Stepan is a pass-first player, and he needs a scoring winger alongside him to be effective. Brandon Dubinsky, at least this season, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust, and Mike Rupp aren’t the answer. Kreider, however, seems to be.
In fact, the Rangers’ second line of Kreider, Stepan, and Ryan Callahan has perhaps been their best since Kreider joined the line-up. With Marian Gaborik being shut-down for the most part, the onus has fallen on the trio to produce.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see one elevating the game of the other given their past World Junior Championships history for Team USA, but it’s a bonus for the Rangers moving forward, and one they perhaps hadn’t counted on a fortnight ago.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the duo can continue to produce once the defensive assignments against them become a little tougher, but for now the Rangers only need sit back and reap the rewards of Stepan and Kreider’s chemistry.