The Minnesota Wild need a permanent number one center sooner rather than later. Mikko Koivu isn’t getting any younger, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula aren’t at that point in their development. Coyle is also arguably a better winger than a center and Haula has had multiple seasons mired in inconsistency with mostly mediocre numbers and flashes of brilliance. Not only is the first line center position an issue for the Wild, the penalty kill needs a boost after a season near the bottom of the league. New York Rangers center Derek Stepan could fill those needs as he is a dynamic center that can produce, is only 25, and still has time to hit his prime, which is exciting.
Stepan was drafted by the New York Rangers 51st overall in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft. His cap hit is on the higher side at $6,500,000. He isn't the biggest in stature at 6’0", 196 pounds, but his right-hand shot could be an asset for a team like the Wild that has a lot of lefties. Stepan scored a hat trick in his NHL debut on October 9th, 2010. While his current contract won't expire until 2021, the Star Tribune's Michael Russo stated on a podcast that the rangers may be shopping him.
Similar to recently signed prospect Chase Lang, Stepan is a great two-way center and penalty killer. Derek is a great candidate for the 1C spot because he has NHL experience and has been a part of deep playoff runs. He's been in leadership positions, and could be a good fit for the younger guys on the Wild.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s Gary Eggleston, "Derek is a very good skater who accelerates quickly, pulling away from his opponent. He is quick on the forecheck and he possesses a surprising reach. He has very good hands with a quick-release shot and excellent passing. He is a smart player who will continue to improve.
An excellent playmaker, he is creative with the puck and also savvy in the defensive zone. A strong positional player, he has a knack for being in the right spot while on the ice. Can play all three forward positions.
Doesn't have ideal size and strength, which somewhat limits his effectiveness against bigger opponents in the National Hockey League. Could stand to improve his take-off stride and also shoot the puck more. - The Hockey News
Special Teams Wizard
According to Corsica.hockey, he ranks between Mikko Koivu and Erik Haula since 2012-13 with a minimum of 130 4v5 minutes with a CA/60 of 85.28. His FA60 is much better than Koivu and Haula with a 61.86. Stepan has played in 5 fewer games than Koivu in that same time and has comparable PK numbers. Though his 4v5 GA60 is much higher than Haula's.
Derek Stepan can be arguably one of the best two-way centers. From 2010-2014, he led the New York Rangers with a GF60 RelTM of 0.42, and a GA60 RelTM of -0.44. Essentially, Stepan is has solid track record playing defensively as fewer shots are allowed when he's on the ice than when he isn't. It also means he has a fairly significant offensive impact when he is on the ice, making him a good two-way center. However, Stepan’s 5v5 CF% has taken a big dip below 50% that past two seasons while his offensive zone starts have dropped, meaning he isn't nearly as sheltered as he used to be early in his career.
Four seasons with 50+ points isn't bad at all. Scoring on the Wild is an issue and Minnesota needs a playmaker to get the shooter the puck. With the assist numbers he has, he could help set up players like Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker. He can also add goal scoring, something the other playmaker on the Wild - Mikael Granlund - doesn't do with nearly as much regularity.
According to Blue Shirts United, since 2012-13 Stepan leads the NHL in short-handed assists (9) and ranks 3rd in short-handed points (15). Since joining the Rangers in 2010-11, he leads the team in goals (111), assists (194), and points (305). Stepan is also one of two Rangers in franchise history who recorded 40+ points in each of their first six seasons. To be in such small company so early in his career year-in, and year-out on an Original Six franchise is amazing.
|Season||Awards by Season||Awards by League|
|2009-2010||U20 WJC All-Star Team||U20 WJC All-Star Team|
|U20 WJC Gold Medal||U20 WJC Gold Medal|
|U20 WJC Most Assists||U20 WJC Most Assists|
|U20 WJC Most Points||U20 WJC Most Points|
|U20 WJC Top 3 Player on Team||U20 WJC Top 3 Player on Team|
|2010-2011||World Championship Top 3 Player on Team||World Championship Top 3 Player on Team|
Where Would He Fit?
If you put Stepan on the top line, that pushes the center depth down a line. Maybe Erik Haula can be that consistent player we saw in the last couple months of the season and take a second line role. This would mean that arguably the best faceoff center on the team, Mikko Koivu, is on the third line, which should allow that line to dominate possession and be in the offensive zone a lot. Fill in the bottom with a mix of size and skill with a Tyler Graovac getting a real shot out of training camp on the fourth line.
Zach Parise - Derek Stepan - Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter - Erik Haula - Jason Pominville
Mikael Granlund - Mikko Koivu - Jason Zucker
Available - Tyler Graovac - Jordan Schroeder
Come home Derek you may be our only hope! You could be the chosen one and play with your favorite childhood player Zach Parise and possibly fellow UW alum, Luke Kunin.