The New York Rangers have not done a great job building their team through the draft over the past few years, but one of the team's biggest steals was taking Derek Stepan in the second round of the 2008 NHL draft.
The Blueshirts' top-line center has tallied 147 points in 223 career games for a 0.66 points-per-game average, but when all is said and done, what will his ideal role be with the Rangers?
Defensively, Stepan is one of the game's top young two-way forwards, and he has done a great job building up his offensive game year in and year out.
Take a look at the below chart for a breakdown of Stepan's progression thus far.
|Derek Stepan's Career To Date|
|Season||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||Points Per Game||+/-|
|The Hockey News Forecaster|
As you can see, Stepan has continually improved since entering the league, and for that reason, he has the potential to be an elite second-line center or an average first-line center.
Well, what does that mean? There are 30 first-line centers in the NHL, but all fall into different categories. If you were to name the top scoring centers in the NHL, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk and Steven Stamkos would certainly come to mind. These players are superstars with numerous seasons of success under their belts, and they are league icons.
You also have two-way first-line centers with offensive abilities like Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar and Mikko Koivu. While they are solid offensively, they still make their money by playing a quality all-around game.
Going even further down the rabbit hole, you have players such as David Krejci and Ryan Kesler, and they are ultimately the closest in makeup to Stepan.
The above forwards could line up as the No. 1 center for their respective teams if needed, but ideally, they are second-line experts that can peak at around 70 points a year, kill penalties and post solid plus/minus ratings.
They are elite second-line centers that could moonlight as first-liners if the situation presented itself. Right now, Stepan is in this exact situation.
Stepan is the team's first-line center for one reason. Brad Richards is now a winger, and he is no longer the first-line center the Rangers signed for $60 million back in 2011.
Even though Stepan is making the best of a favorable situation, ideally he would best serve the Rangers as a second-line center because defense is his strong suit.
If Stepan were to take his offensive game to the next level, he could fall between the tier of Toews, Kopitar and Koivu and the tier of Krejci and Kesler. This would see Stepan record between 70 to 80 points a year while still remaining a defensive stalwart that kills a ton of penalties.
Although Stepan led the team in scoring last season, he needs to prove that he can have continued success offensively. It was great to see him tally close to a point per game, but thus far he is goalless through 11 games. For that reason, it seems that he is having some growing pains, and his drastic improvement could be looked at as a one-time thing.
Stepan still is a valuable forward to the Rangers, but he serves them best in a second-line role in which he can capitalize in offensive situations like he did in the above video.
I know it sounds like the beating of a dead horse, but if you still aren’t sold on the assertion that Stepan will serve the Rangers best as a second-line center, here is how he stacks up with the aforementioned centers.
|How They Stack Up|
|Player||Age||Games Played||Goals||Assists||Points||Points Per Game|
|The Hockey News|
As you can see, he is right in line with the players listed, and he is in good company. He is in the middle, and he has the ability to usurp some of the listed players.
It is still too early to pinpoint what type of center he will be, but if he follows his career average, he will be an amazing second-line pivot for the Blueshirts, with the potential to do some damage as a top-liner.