Russ Miller takes a look at young Rangers' forward Derek Stepan.
Lame title aside, Derek Stepan is playing some inspired hockey of late. He's been the Rangers best Centre and is only three points and one goal behind "superstar" Rick Nash's team leading 30 points and 13 goals respectively. In most fantasy leagues, Brad Richards and Rick Nash went many rounds ahead of Stepan, yet here we are about to enter the home stretch of this abbreviated season and Stepan is playing the best hockey of his career.
Over his last 17 games, Stepan has 18 points, exactly the same number as Rick Nash. On the Rangers, there are 10 forwards who make more than Stepan's $875,000 annual cap hit. This is the final year of his contract, so he has set himself up for a very nice pay increase.
Only Ryan Callahan plays more amongst Rangers forwards than Stepan's 20:43 minutes per game. Stepan also receives the sixth most power play time on ice with 2:45 per game.
In his rookie campaign, Stepan recorded a respectable 21 goals and 45 points. He followed that up with a mildly disappointing 17 goals and 51 points. It was substandard in that much more was expected from him in his sophomore season.
This year, he is on pace for a 28 goal, 63 points pro-rated for an 82 game season. Stepan has also proven to be a durable performer, he has yet to miss a game in his NHL career.
The Rangers are 4-6-1 over their last 11 games played. Brad Richards has four points in his last 11 games. He has been a disappointment this season on Broadway, recording a meagre 19 points in 33 games, a 47 point pace. Last season, Richards recorded 25 goals and 66 points. In his three plus years with Dallas, Richards scored 227 points in 220 games, an 85 point pace per 82 games.
Twice in his NHL career, has Richards scored 91 points, so we know that he has the ability to hit those highs, but he is having trouble putting up fantasy-worthy numbers this season. Richards plays 19:20 minutes per game and receives the most power play ice time amongst any Blueshirt. Look for Richards to improve on his totals down the stretch. His track record is too good to deny for long.
At least Rick Nash is meeting expectations, he has 13 goals and 30 points in 31 games with the Rangers this season. He would be on pace for his sixth straight 30 goals season if we were playing a full season. Like most poolies, I thought Nash would be a great fit in New York. Unfortunately, the team is struggling to score goals and while on paper, it is one of the best teams in the Conference, on the ice, they are in a pitched battle for a playoff position.
Where to start with Marian Gaborik? The numbers tell a story of a $7.5 million dollar player who has nine goals and 19 points in 35 games. The former three time 40 goal scorer is on pace for a 21 goal pro-rated campaign. His last six seasons in points are 57, 83, 23, 86, 48 and 76 last year. Granted the reasons for his lack of production over some of those years would fill many a medical journal, but not this season. This year however, he seems uninterested and the effort level is not in line with past seasons. Maybe a rumoured trade would spark Gaborik to his former levels, or is he possibly not 100 per cent following his off-season shoulder surgery? Leave that question for your competitors to answer and stay as far away from this talented player as you can.
As the Rangers and Head Coach John Tortorella sit squarely on the playoff hot seat, the play of Stepan, Richards, Nash and Gaborik will ultimately decide whether or not they make the post season.
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