It seems like half of the New York Rangers’ fan base wants to trade Derek Stepan because he’s “not a first line center.” They couldn’t be any more wrong.
They say that sometimes, you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. In the case of center Derek Stepan, that would be true if the New York Rangers decided to trade him.
For whatever reason, a big subsection of the Rangers’ fan base has this weird obsession with pointing out Stepan’s flaws as they scream “trade him” from the rooftops. But when you sit back and absorb what his game really is and how he’s been able to produce in said role, you see just how valuable he is.
Difference between elite and first line caliber
Stepan is no Crosby, McDavid or Malkin. While obviously, we all wish that the Rangers a player of that caliber, they don’t and they won’t. While that’s the elite of the elite, a category that Stepan definitely isn’t it, he’s still among the best centerman in the league.
You cannot possibly tell me that there are 30–now 31–better centers in the league right now. Stepan has that rare combination of offensive production, defensive abillity and intangibles that make him super valuable to a club, which is why according to Bob McKenzie there are multiple teams with serious interest in his services.
Points per game
Yes, Stepan had a down season offensively last year where he ranked 32nd in terms of points by centerman, but it is worth noting that he had the worst shooting percentage of his career, which means he was a bit snakebitten. Over the last few seasons, however, Stepan has been as consistent as they come. Stepan has notched at least 53 points in each of his last four seasons.
Over those last four seasons, Stepan ranks 17th among centers in points (315), 24th in goals (107) and 15th in assists. Of players who played at least 300 games in that four-year span, Stepan ranks 24th overall in points per game (.73).
And of those 23 centers above him in that stat, very few can play the same caliber defense as the balding 27-year-old.
The defensive side of the puck is Stepan’s game. While he produces offensively like a mid-tier first line center, defensively, he is even better. In fact, of the 23 centers that rank above him in overall points per game, only nine of them have better CA/60 numbers over the last two years at even strength than Stepan (55.57). CA/60, for those unfamiliar with it, registers shots against while he’s on the ice.
Stepan has also become one of the team’s best penalty killers, too. Over the last two seasons, there is only one Ranger who’s been on the ice more than Stepan in shorthanded situations (Fast) and one player with a better CF% in shorthanded situations (Hayes). Stepan’s shorthanded CA/60 is much better than that of Hayes and Fast though as Stepan’s sits at 87.72 (Hayes is 95.16 and Fast is 100.94).
When Stepan has been out of the lineup over the past few seasons, the team has suffered mightily on defense. Yes, it didn’t help to have your defensive pairings resemble the Island of Misfit Toy’s all star team, but the difference in defensive play with and without Stepan was very noticeable.
Stepan is horrible at faceoffs. While that statement is accurate, we must realize that faceoffs have a minimal importance compared to everything else Stepan does. He’s also not the greatest shooter in the world which is why he was the not-so-proud owner of a 8.1 shooting percentage in 16-17.
Another knock on Stepan of which the fanbase is adamant about is his lack of footspeed. Meanwhile, in the same sentence, they say they want to replace him with soon to be 38-year-old Joe Thornton who is coming off of a torn ACL and MCL? Please…
There simply aren’t any better replacements out there for their alternate captain Stepan, and that’s okay. If the team fixes up the defense while leaving the offense alone, this team can contend for the Cup next season.