Derek Stepan: Mr. Consistency … now comes the big test

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Just a note before I head off to practice again (geez, will they ever play this series?). We are planning to do a Live Playoff Chat Thursday at 11:30 a.m. So plan to be there. Or else. Hopefully it will be the first of many.

In the meantime, as you probably guessed based on my interviews Tuesday, I wrote a story on Derek Stepan for The Journal News and LoHud.com.

Here it is:

By Rick Carpiniello

GREENBURGH — It sounded kind of crazy when the words came out of John Tortorella’s mouth Saturday — not that you don’t expect the occasional baloney from the Rangers coach.

On a team with Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash, there was Tortorella at the end of the regular season calling Derek Stepan the club’s most important player.

Maybe he is that, maybe he isn’t. It would be a tough argument to make against Lundqvist, the team’s MVP, or against Captain Callahan, or Nash, the newcomer and most dangerous player.

But Stepan, except for a slow start, has easily been more consistent than any of those players, and he plays in all situations — and his penalty-killing duty became extremely crucial after the Rangers lost so many PK-duty regulars in the summer.

All the 22-year-old center did in the lockout shortened season was A) replace Brad Richards as the team’s No. 1 center; B) make every winger who played with him better; C) lead the team in scoring (18 goals, 26 assists, 44 points and a +25 rating) and D) prove to be one of the team’s best defensive forwards.

“I think he has evolved,” Tortorella said Monday. “He struggled early. He was penciled in to be our No. 2 center. I was worried if he could handle that coming into this year. He has been our No. 1 center as he has evolved into it, and I am totally confident that he is going to be able to handle all the things going into this playoff series.”

The playoff series against Washington, which begins Thursday in D.C. — and whatever happens beyond, if anything, will go a long way toward defining Stepan at this young age. Because he has struggled in the postseason, going without a point in a five-game loss to the Capitals two seasons ago, and scoring a single goal (albeit a huge goal) in 20 playoff games last spring.

“Playoffs have never been my strong point,” Stepan said, before trailing off into his humble team-speak, when the I becomes we, when questions about himself become answers about the group.

He did allow that he learned a lot from the Rangers’ run to the Eastern final last spring.

“You’ve been through it once now and you understand how you’ve got to carry yourself and you get that aspect of it,” Stepan said. “But every playoffs is new and it’s exciting and it’s going to have a different feel to it.

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a new year, a new playoffs. You learn from it and you move on. … You just learn how you need to play in a playoff series, what it takes to play in a playoff series, what atmospheres are like in a playoff series — all the things that it takes to win playoff games, how you handle yourself when you win one, how you handle yourself when you lose one, all that stuff adds up.

Like his numbers added up. He had points in 12 of the final 14 games of the season, and had 15 goals and 35 points the last 30, all of which must have a cash register ringing in his agent’s head. Stepan, making $875,000 this year, will be a restricted free agent July 1.

“He’s prepared,” Tortorella said. “He does a lot of work and that’s an intangible that he has that some players don’t, as far as being prepared for all situations. I think that has helped him in his confidence and it keeps on growing.”

That’s the difference between Stepan and, say, Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller. Or the difference between, even, Stepan — who made it directly to the NHL out of college and scored a hat trick in his first game — and Michael Del Zotto or Ryan McDonagh or even Callahan, who did play minor hockey first.

“Yeah, some of the other kids don’t get it,” Tortorella said. “They will eventually. I think they’ll be taught. But Step had that right away and you could see that right away when he first came to us. I think that progresses players quicker. I mean, he’s a 22-year-old guy that I use in every freakin’ situation. And he’s a guy, as I’ve said, I was worried about him being our No. 2 center going into the year. He’s proven to all of us that he’s taken a huge step this year.”

The pun was not intended.

 

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95 Comments

  1. Love that we talk about how consistent he is in points and making big plays but show a picture of him face washing somebody. *OLD TIME HOCKEY!*

  2. Love the kid this year, he’s made the Stephen McDonald vote more than a one horse race, become our #1 center and thats a great photo of him sticking it to Skidney Crybaby – i presume a double-minor penalty was called for “putting your hands on 87″ after that?

  3. JimG – The wait is killing you? Welcome to my world – I’m the fat guy that’s been sitting on a street corner on lower Boradway since the Nash trade. How do you think I feel?

    When I win the Carp contest and the Bonehead League, I’m gonna make it rain up in here

  4. Nice article, Carp.
    One has to be very proud of this organization for being able to draft, and develop such a player. In second round, no less. The jury is still out, but I do not have any doubts that he will be a solid 1st line center on this team. He added consistency this year, but most importantly, while always being a heady player, he showed some creativity. I always felt the lack of creativity was holding him back from becoming a 1st liner. He may never win a scoring title, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins Selke a few times.
    Now, regarding his contract. He is finishing his 3-year ELC ( two-way, btw), and isn’t arbitration eligible. Long term, anyone?

  5. LMAO Manny. Way to give Bodhi a playoff beard.

    Stepan the Conn Smyth candidate of the team? Wish we had Clowe…

  6. Sioux-per-man on

    Phat Guy with a big Stoggie in his mouth talking smack!!!

    Can the day start off any better!!!!

  7. In his last year in the league, Avery was first among all players in missed hotel wake-up calls. Is that award named after someone specific?

  8. Sioux-per-man on

    Best thing I like about Step. He’s always smiling.

    Hard working, HUMBLE kid from MN. Played in the WCHA, and was a good player for the Badgers. Which I think helped his development. Having success at every level, give a player confidence that they can fall back on.

    He deserves his raise. And should be a solid Ranger for many years to come!!!

  9. Sioux-per-man on

    Nice to see Stepan take the pressure off of Richie!

    This team rises to a whole new level if Richie can find his Conn Smythe self for the Playoffs.

  10. Stranger Nation on

    One of the best parts of his game is the big smile on his face during play or when on the bench. The kid likes to play this game, some look like it is ‘work’ for them.

    McD, Step, Hags, MDZ, Moore, Kreider, Miller – this team has some great young talent and it’s ABOUT TIME!

  11. Stranger Nation on

    Sui-Sui-Suidio – we be vibn you cigar chomping fan from the Badlands.

    Happiness is contagious. Must be a great team mate

  12. I found this:

    *GVT* (Individual)

    Goals Versus Threshold. Developed by Tom Awad
    of Hockey Prospectus, GVT measures a player’s
    worth in comparison to a typical fringe NHL player.
    GVT has two major advantages over most metrics: it’s
    measured in goals, which are easily equated to wins,
    and it is capable of comparing players across multiple
    positions and multiple eras. GVT is the summation of
    OGVT, GGVT, DGVT, and SGVT.

  13. Sioux-per-man on

    Morning Stranger!

    It is contagious when you’re winning.

    Young team with speed & skill. Not alot of holes to fill when Staal & Dorsett get healthy enough to play.

    And with Kreider & Miller knocking on the door, it has to push the Boyle/Pyatt to be a better player.

  14. Sioux-per-man on

    So my question of the day.

    Are the Rangers better team with Boyle out of the line up? Who comes out if/when he’s healthy. Kreider?

  15. Stranger Nation on

    Sioux – was that last question rhetorical or you just trying to wake some people up…paging Stuart and Czech…paging Stuart and Czech…question on the blog requires your attention…

  16. Sioux-per-man on

    Stranger – you have to put Brassard on that list at 25, only a year older than Hags.

    1’st Rounder, 6th overall, 11pts in 13 games for the Rangers.

    Just imagine his points over a full season for the Rangers.

    Future so bright….gotta wear shades!!!

  17. Sioux-per-man on

    Chicago to host Pittsburgh on March 1 outdoors. That’s getting a little late don’t you think?

  18. Sioux-per-man on

    Do we need more “Bangers & Mash” along the boards for the playoffs, or can Kreider score enough to keep the spot?

    That’s going to be the question!!!

  19. Sioux-per-man on

    7-1 without Boyle. And it looks like Dorsett is closer to coming back.

    Who comes out when Dorsett is cleared to play?

  20. Carp, great article. As one who was quite vocal here in my displeasure with DS’s horrible start which happened to come off his dismal playoffs of last year, I humbly and without reservation admit, I was very wrong. I should have shown more patience.

    Since he found his legs, improved his endurance and got his mind right, he has been the most consistent player for the team. Perhaps I am most impressed by his ability to blend with and make better his line-mates, no matter who Torts decides to team him with. *He has been a consistent slump buster for other players on the team*

    LGR!

  21. iCCCP - Who Gives A Puck?! on

    I’m on my iPhone (not driving)…different avatar here.

    Stephan has been great this year. I can’t wait to see Nash and Brassard in postseason action!

  22. Stranger Nation on

    Sioux – I am a HUGE fan of Bros-hard. He is yet another solid young player we got in the trade for the one dimensional Gabby.

    We had too many wingers, not enough D, grit or centers and we traded our best asset to fill those 3 areas –

    resign Slatapus!!

  23. Sioux-per-man on

    3C – I think the line is going to be

    Nash-Richards-Zucc

    They were creating 4-5 real scoring chances. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is our second line.

    With Cally-Step-Hags going out against the Ovechkin line.

  24. Stranger Nation on

    Papa – you were not wrong in your early assessment and Step’s play was further highlighted by the absence of Richards game so we had Richards, Step, Boyle and Halpern down the middle and in the first 2 weeks, that wasn’t working so well.

    if Step did not improve and Nash did not carry the team early on, this season would have been toast on St. Patty’s.

  25. Sioux-per-man on

    And now it Step – Richards – Brassard – Powe down the middle.

    And for awhile it was Richards playing a strong 3 line center.

  26. they are not a better team with BOyle out of the lineup.

    they are a better team with Boyle on the 4th line, taking key faceoffs and PK, that is where Boyle is best used. He is much better player then Powe….Not saying much.

  27. Sioux-per-man on

    Zucc has been a playmaker for both Nash and Richie. I would like to see that line score at WILL. Just a great mix of talent and skill.

  28. Sioux-per-man on

    Stuart – Powe doesn’t get scored on much. He is much faster, and blocks ALOT of shots.
    Powe -2
    Boyle -13

  29. Sioux-per-man on

    I was wondering if Dorsett is almost ready, he would be coming in on the 4th line, with Asham and Powe.

    So Boyle has to stand behind Dorsett.

    Or do you interchange Boyle with Pyatt?
    You can’t do that
    Pyatt – played all 48 games, 11 pts, +5
    Boyle – 38 games, 5 pts, -13

    If Boyle has a bad wheel/knee he might not make it back in this year. With Dorsett ready to play once he is cleared.

    When your 7-1 without him, how do you put him back in?

  30. Sioux-per-man on

    or do you play him 1 game in the final series. So he gets his name on the Cup :)

  31. Sioux – Slow, fat and steady wins the race. I’m already picking out my cigars and new time share in Aruba.

  32. Sioux-per-man on

    I’ll have to hook with ya when I play a poker tournament down there ;)

  33. Sioux-per-man on

    I’m not likeing this no Clowe for practice!

    Any idea how long this is going to take?

    Anyone have a clip of the elbow he caught?

  34. Doodie Machetto on

    From Aaron Portzline

    #CBJ confirm Marian Gaborik is in Philadelphia today to be seen by specialist regarding abdominal injury. As of now, no surgery scheduled

    Interesting. Would love to know when injury occurred. If he was playing hurt all season for us, I’d be even more pissed that they traded him.

  35. Stranger Nation on

    agree on Boyle for 4th line center – powe on pk and RW and Ass-ham on the other wing

    Tony Dorset goes in for pie-hat IMHO

  36. Doodie Machetto on

    My avatar already has some sweet mutton chops. Should I still add a beard?

  37. iWicky "Frag Out!!!" on

    Sioux
    Each person different, and I don’t like it at all either.

    We need him badly in the playoffs

  38. Sioux-per-man on

    Stranger – and to think if Gaby needs surgery on his glass hernia, we got out of him just in the nick of time :)

  39. Stranger Nation on

    hags/steps/cally
    zucc/bros-hard/monster nash
    pie-hat/tricky-dick/cc kreider
    ass-ham/no-berries/kung pow

  40. Stranger Nation on

    hags/steps/cally
    zucc/bros-hard/monster nash
    pie-hat/tricky-richards/cc kreider
    ass-ham/no-berries/kung pow

  41. Stranger Nation on

    Doods – wake up and smell the granola – Gabby is dead to us, dead…

  42. Gravy, You Know You Want Some Marty on

    Missed the playoff prediction contest. Is it too late to predict Blues in 1, Blackhawks in 1, and Ducks in 1?

  43. Richards will not return to his Conn Smythe form.

    The truth is that he will have moments of brilliance punctuated by long periods of mediocrity and the occasional stupid mistake. That’s been his season, even in the last couple of weeks, and it’s not going to change.

    As great as Nash has been this year, he will have to raise his game even more. The laziness and the falling down (he seems to fall every other shift!) have to stop.

  44. Always add a beard, Doodie. I mean, if you thought they were going to make it out of the first round you could wait and enhance the facial hair as the rounds progress.

  45. The Staal news is starting to sound pretty positive. Probably not playing is better than definitely not playing.

  46. That’s the best news we’ve heard abut them in a while—->
    Thanks, Carp. And Clowe is flying with them, so he must be getting better.

  47. Hitchhiking? Did you see his mug? Any truck driver in his right mind would run him over before giving him a ride :-)

  48. Doodie Machetto on

    Well, let’s hope he wasn’t skating there, because I don’t think he would have made it from one blue line to the other blue line yet…. Hamrlik is right behind him.

    Carp, is Hamrlik still with the team or did they send him home?

  49. Stepan is the most improved player this year and deserves to start next season as the #1 center.

    Richards if not moved in some manner will be the #2 and Brassard should be #3.

    #4 will be a PK man with grit.

    Now the issue is filling the wings and an absolute must adding a D who is feared!

    Maybe Colonel Sanders could help Sappy!

  50. Send Hamrlik to Guantanamo with Sgt. Shoenfeld. Assign Joey Kocur to temporary active duty.

  51. Doodie Machetto on

    Does he skate with the team? And by “skate,” I also mean his imitation of actual skating.

  52. NHL Playoff hockey is alive with minor indiscretions and various and sundry unpleasantries. Officials are more inclined to let the players play. Skaters, especially relative newcomers, must understand this and be ready to give as well as to take. The Ashams, Haleys and Dorsetts, et al must be disciplined as well as active in protecting our “stars” from constant harassment and intimidation.

  53. With Step proving he is a #1 center, Brassard playing well and odds are in favor of Miller making the team full time next year – does that make Richie more expendable this summer as opposed to next? None of these guys are 4th line centers and it seems that Boyle would fill that role very well while also PKing. So why keep Richards and his cap after this season?

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