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Should Derek Stepan Be Moved To Left Wing?

Derek Stepan

Derek Stepan

One of the most intriguing questions Coach John Tortorella must answer heading into next season is whether to move Derek Stepan to left wing or keep him at center.  Stepan, 21, posted 45 points as a rookie and has just scratched the surface of his potential, but many are already calling for a position switch.  There’s a case to be made for both sides, but Tortorella will have the only opinion that matters come September.

The case for moving Stepan to left wing: As a rookie Stepan quickly established himself as one of the Rangers’ best offensive options and has already shown maturity beyond his years.  On the depth chart he’s behind Brad Richards and Artem Anisimov at center and would be stuck with less appealing linemates if he remains in the middle.  If Stepan is moved to left wing it will almost certainly be because the Rangers want him to play alongside Richards and Marian Gaborik to form what could be a potent top line.  Not only would the Rangers’ top unit be almost impossible to handle, but the team’s two best lines from a year ago, Brandon Dubinsky/Artem Anisimov/Ryan Callahan and Ruslan Fedotenko/Brian Boyle/Brandon Prust could be kept intact as well, giving the Rangers three very solid groupings.  Stepan was a very poor faceoff man in 2010-2011 and moving him away from draw situations and into a more straight line position could help him transform into a star.  Stepan showed tantalizing glimpses while playing along the left wing boards on the power play and seems like a natural fit on that side.  Plus, the NHL features dozens of strong centers and right wings, but quality left wingers are far and few between.  After Brandon Dubinsky it’s unclear who exactly has a spot on the left wing locked up, but moving Stepan to the left side would give the Rangers two very formidable left wings for their top two scoring lines.

The case against moving Stepan to left wing: In recent years it has become obvious that the two keys to winning in the NHL are quality goaltending and superior depth down the middle.  Without Brad Richards the Rangers had a below average group at center, but with Richards the Blueshirts have to be considered among the league’s deeper teams at center.  Stepan’s faceoff ability is a problem, but that’s something that can be learned over time and if worse comes to worse the Rangers can cover up Stepan at the faceoff dot by having wingers take draws for him as Dubinsky has done since his move to left wing.  Stepan is a creative player and moving him to the left side might curb some of his free rein.  It’s early to give up on Stepan in the middle and switching a player back and forth isn’t a great idea, so if the Rangers decide to move Stepan to the left side it would likely be a permanent move.  While moving Stepan to the left side could give the Rangers three strong lines, keeping him in the middle might give the Blueshirts four reliable forward groupings.  That’s a matter of preference and it depends also on other roster players, but having four legitimate players at center is a luxury that might not be worth giving up.  If Stepan is moved to the left, it could create a bit of a logjam next year when Chris Kreider is ready to turn pro.  Kreider might need another season in Connecticut, but there’s a chance he’ll be ready to jump to the NHL and if Stepan and Dubinsky are already occupying the top two left wing spots, Kreider’s position becomes muddled.  Keeping Stepan at center and moving Kreider to the top line left wing and possibly putting Christian Thomas with Stepan could be a wiser move for the long-term growth of the franchise.

In the end Stepan’s future may hinge as much on the Rangers’ feelings about Wojtek Wolski as his own performance, but expect him to get a look on the top line during training camp and the preseason.  A move to left wing may make sense at some point for Stepan, but he should get another year in the middle before any switch is made.  Stepan’s development this season and the possible addition of Chris Kreider could make this decision much easier next year, but for now depth at center isn’t something to forfeit if at all possible.  

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Posted by Kevin Baumer | July 12, 2011 at 01:05 pm

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