The answer to who will replace Derek Stepan is within. His name is Mika Zibanejad. The center has shown steady improvement in his first six seasons and without an injury last year would have likely topped his career high of 51 points. Zibanejad is ready to take the next step and become a number one center.
While the Rangers will probably have to test the free agent market to find a player down the middle, a number one center’s price would be too high. My guess is the Rangers will see this too and opt for a lesser deal for either a third or fourth liner.
That will still solve the center problem, but they simply won’t have to overpay for a number one center. That’s a good thing considering Zibanejad is ready to be just that.
With Zibanejad at center, the Rangers can focus on revamping their blue line through free agency, rather than trying to find a piece that they already have.
The thought of replacing Derek Stepan is tough, but the solution isn’t nearly as difficult. Zibanejad is the guy.