How far will the Rangers get this season?

Don't Rush Stepan
Prized Rangers prospect Derek Stepan is having a great camp, but the team should be careful of asking to much from him...

Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan

Today on Twitter Joe Fortunato of Blueshirt Banter, Dave Shapiro of BlueSeatBlogs and I debated whether Derek Stepan should be the Rangers’ first line center between Marian Gaborik and Erik Christensen. 

While I do believe that Stepan, 20, will eventually center the team’s top line, I don’t think now is the time.  Stepan’s ability is not in doubt, and he seems to have all the qualities a team would want not only in a star player, but in a captain.

But to expect Stepan to go from playing 41 college games last season (48 including the World Junior Championship) to 82 NHL games in New York City alongside one of the league’s premier goal-scorers is a huge jump.  It’s an awful to expect from a 20-year-old.

Sure some 18, 19, and 20-year-olds make NHL teams out of training camp and some even have great success in their rookie seasons.  But it’s extremely rare for a college kid to make that leap.  Youngsters from the OHL, QMJHL and WHL play 68, 68 and 72 games a season, excluding playoffs, and in most cases those games are against higher competition than Stepan ever saw in college. 

Stepan has rare characteristics, to be sure, but it’s difficult to imagine him not wearing down a bit at some point this season.  Instead of that happening on Broadway where the pressure is often suffocating, Stepan should play his first grueling 82-game season in the minors.  And if he really is ready for the NHL, Stepan should start on the second or third line where he won’t be expected to gel with Gaborik right away and can develop slowly like Artem Anisimov did last season.  Then if he does start to struggle he can be sent to the minors and the team won’t be crippled.

To me it’d be ideal for Stepan to play three games on the first or second line while Chris Drury recovers from his finger injury to get his feet wet, then be sent to Hartford.  Hopefully Stepan would dominate in Hartford, lead the Wolf Pack (or Whale) to the Calder Cup, and come to training camp next year expecting to center the Rangers’ top line.

I have no doubt that Stepan will be an NHL star, but I don’t think there’s any rush or incentive to forcing him into such a difficult situation.  The Rangers aren’t a Stanley Cup contender and adding Stepan won’t change that.  So there’s no reason to put unrealistic expectations and pressure on him.  Instead, the Rangers should attempt to give Stepan valuable experience, success and confidence in Hartford.  It won’t change his spot on the team next season and for the future, and it will give him a much better chance at success.  

Posted by Kevin Baumer | September 21, 2010 at 04:56 pm

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New York Rangers VS Chicago Blackhawks
Wednesday, October 7, 2015

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Rangers 3 0 0 - 3
Blackhawks 1 1 0 - 2

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