Last season, Derek Stepan finished the shortened 2012-13 campaign with a whopping 44 points in 48 games. This year, Stepan has 17 less points in the same amount of games played. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Stepan has been very streaky and an utter disappointment as the team's No. 1 center. Granted he is only in that role because "Broadway" Brad Richards is now primarily a winger, but nonetheless, Stepan has not played up to his potential.
Therefore, given his track record and his struggles this year, was the 2012-13 a fluke for the Blueshirts' 23-year-old center?
Right now it appears that the 2012-13 campaign was a fluke for Stepan, but that isn't a knock on him at all. Averaging 0.92 points per game is fine and dandy, but Stepan is not that type of player offensively.
What Stepan can do is play two-way hockey, and that is an invaluable role in today's NHL. The former Wisconsin Badger can kill penalties and generate offense, but he isn't going to be a 70-point player on a consistent basis.
Fortunately for Stepan, he isn't the only first-line center in that situation.
There are 30 first-line centers in the NHL, but during the last full season, only 10 finished with 70 or more points. There was also a strong secondary tier of centers that finished with at least 60 points, and that is a group that Stepan could ideally be a member of.
In a previous column, this writer posed the question of what Stepan was capable of, and that hasn't changed since. What has changed is Stepan's offensive output. Throughout his young career, Stepan has finished with similar numbers, but last year's performance was off the charts.
For a clearer picture, take a look at this chart.
Now take a look at how he has performed this season.
What immediately stands out is that in 28 of the 48 games played, Stepan has not registered a point. That is really, really bad. That is Wade Redden contract/California pizza bad. It is mind boggling because last season Stepan had a streak in which he averaged at least a point over 20 or so games.
Some of his totals are also inflated because of two or three big games, and outside of that, it has been pretty vanilla for Stepan.
It is fair to say that he has completely bottomed out, but he is still on pace to finish with 0.56 points per game, the third highest of his career.
It is obvious that Stepan is struggling, but it is exacerbated by the fact that the level of expectation has exponentially increased. It is safe to assume that no one expected Stepan to replicate his 0.92 pace from last season, but it is just as reasonable to say that a 0.56 pace was expected.
All in all, while it is frustrating, you can’t get too upset over his struggles this year. He hasn’t proved that he can consistently be a point-per-game player, so no one should be mad that he isn’t putting those numbers up this year.
Stepan does need to step up the pace slightly because he can’t afford to have his numbers slip anymore. He could find himself knocked out of the top-six if he doesn’t shape up.
Right now Stepan is the weak link on the Rangers’ top line. Chris Kreider is having an amazing year, and Rick Nash is looking like a hockey player again
Stepan has 34 games to get his act together, and only time will tell when it comes to the type of hockey player he ultimately becomes.
*Stats via NHL.com and The Hockey News.
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