The New York Rangers center Derek Stepan has had a low goal total this season when compared to prior seasons.
Coming off last season, where he scored a career-high 22 (while missing 10 games), Stepan’s 13 goals on the season (currently his career-low) is underwhelming. Despite this, Stepan is on pace to exceed 50 points for the fifth time in his career, which is a serious accomplishment for the New York Rangers’ forward.
However, Stepan’s biggest impact does not always come from the points he puts up. He has a much broader impact as a vocal leader on the bench and playmaker on the ice.
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In his seventh year with the New York Rangers, Stepan started the 2016-17 season on the second
line with Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey.
This was only second to the line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich – a line loaded with youth, speed and skill.
While Stepan centered the Rangers’ top line last season with Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, early in the 2016-17 season, there was no need to have Stepan playing on the top line. There was so much chemistry between Kreider, Zibanejad and Buchnevich, that it allowed for Nash and Stepan to contribute a veteran presence on a line with the rookie Vesey, and ultimately added depth to the roster.
Since then, injuries on the roster (as well as with Alain Vigneault’s insistence upon shifting lines) Stepan has moved back to the top line with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello.
Over the past two seasons, this line has been one of the most reliable and consistent for the Rangers,
Stepan is a playmaker and this is reflected in how his stats are skewed.
From year-to-year, the Rangers veteran’s high point totals are more a result of assists than they are goals.
Stepan can and does score, but his biggest asset when it comes to his positioning on the roster tends to be how he sets plays up on the ice. He currently sits within the top five Rangers for point totals and his 35 assists this season is the third-highest of his career, and just five off his career high 40 in 2013-14.
Throughout this season especially, it seems that Stepan is among those Rangers on the roster who have great chances, yet the puck never seems to make it to the back of the net.
There is nothing more frustrating than not seeing results in the goals column and it is easy to get down on yourself when this happens. However, Stepan comes out to make a big impact on the ice whether he’s scoring or not.
When Stepan is frustrated, he translates that energy into his leadership, which has clearly impacted close games throughout this season.
One of the best examples of when Stepan’s energy on the bench translated into a Rangers win is back on December 18 against the New Jersey Devils. With the Rangers down 2-1 with less than a minute left in the third Stepan tied the game, and New York went on to win in a shootout.
While the Rangers would like to see Stepan score, his goal scoring should not be a huge concern heading into the postseason. It is more than enough to see him step out every night and generate opportunities even if he is not the one who ends up with a point in the end.
The Rangers have those that they rely on to score goals and others that they rely on to be playmakers. In his role on a line with Kreider and Zuccarello, there is no reason to place added stress on Stepan when it comes to goal scoring.
The Rangers’ biggest concern moving into the postseason needs to be seeing their players produce to their strengths, and they need every player to give it their all every night.
With such a competitive Metropolitan Division and the insecurity the Rangers have faced on defense this season, they will need to have their best offensive showing of the season if they want a shot at making a run in the playoffs.
While Stepan is a piece of this puzzle, he needs to simply keep doing what he’s in the roster to do and, so long as his teammates do the same, the rest will fall into place.