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Why it's time to recognize Derek Stepan as a top-notch NHL pivot

Derek Stepan has quietly produced like some of the league's best centers over the past year. Why doesn't he receive more recognition?
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

What type of respect does a 73-point season earn you in today's NHL? A lot, considering scoring has dipped sufficiently enough that we won't have a 100-point scorer this season.

In 2013-14, Anze Kopitar had 70 points. Jonathan Toews had 68. Fourteen players had 73 or more points, including seven centers.

New York Rangers pivot Derek Stepan, 24, isn't often if ever mentioned in the same breath as the elite at his position. And yet, after notching two more points in Thursday nights's shootout loss to Vancouver, Stepan has 73 points over his past 82 games dating back to last season. He's been even hotter if you shorten the timeline to last March onward, in which he's amassed 62 points in his past 64 games. And that's all the more impressive considering his 41 points in 42 games this season came after breaking his leg in a freak accident at training camp. It took three weeks of game action to feel comfortable, and Stepan told THN Thursday night he's 100 percent now.

Stepan, however, lacks the recognition to match the production. He hasn't played in an All-Star Game, albeit there haven't been many during his career thus far. He finished 13th in Calder Trophy voting as a rookie in 2010-11. He was seventh in Lady Byng voting and ninth in Selke voting in 2012-13. And that's pretty much it for Stepan's accolades.

What will it take for him to break through into mainstream hockey consciousness? He's been lauded for his two-way play, though he's buried near the bottom of the NHL's Corsi Close rankings despite playing for a highly rated possession team. Part of that is the opposing company he keeps, matched up against opponents' best players. In Corsi relative to quality of competition, he actually ranks just outside the top 100.

Defensive play aside, though, Stepan's scoring is the flash, and that should earn him more headlines, especially when he's playing with Martin St-Louis on his right wing and scoring on pretty plays like this one:

Plays like those are no random occurrence according to Stepan. He describes himself and and St-Louis as "big on Xs and Os," students of the game who like to execute attacks that are drawn up in advance.

"He’s got so much to offer that I can learn from, and any chance I get to hear something he likes, I’m going to listen to and try to soak it up," Stepan said.

The pair are 15 years apart, making them more Luke and Obi-Wan than Henrik and Daniel. Stepan and St-Louis do seem to share a rhythm like that of the Sedins, though. Stepan and St-Louis are big on communication. Stepan says they talk before games, during the play, on the bench, after the game.

"We do a lot of chatting, what he likes, what I like, what’s comfortable for him," Stepan said. "And that’s how you build chemistry.”

Maybe if the two keep using that chemistry to produce offense, we'll finally start hearing Stepan mentioned alongside the other great No. 1 centers in the game.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the Post-To-Post blogFor more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazineFollow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin


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