Stepan making jump to pro game
USA World Junior captain already wows the crowd at Development Camp
|Derek Stepan, who signed his first pro contract on Thursday, was rated in The Hockey News Future Watch edition as the 16th-best drafted prospect playing outside the NHL during the past season.|
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
For Derek Stepan, coming off a monster season both collegiately and internationally, it was time to bring his game to a new level. So the talented center decided to leave the University of Wisconsin, and agreed to terms on his first NHL contract with the Rangers on Thursday.
“For me it was the right move because I felt that I was ready for the next step,” said Stepan, who has been a standout player during the Rangers’ Prospects Development Camp this week at the MSG Training Center. “I have all the respect in the world for the University of Wisconsin, and they got me to where I am at today, but it just felt like the right move for me.”
Stepan, who just turned 20 two weeks ago, helped lead Wisconsin to the NCAA championship game this past spring before losing out to a Boston College team that included Chris Kreider, the Rangers’ top pick from 2009. He also captained the United States to the gold medal at the 2010 World Junior Championships, playing with fellow Blueshirt prospects Ryan Bourque and Kreider.
“It’s hard to put into words, but he is a player, he gets it,” Kreider said of Stepan. “Some guys don’t get it, but he knows where to be, knows what plays to make, has great hands, great hockey sense. And he’s got leadership qualities to boot, too. It’s all very natural to him.”
Last year Stepan established career-highs across the board offensively by scoring 12 goals, registering 42 assists and finishing with 54 points in 41 games for the Badgers. Stepan led his team, and the entire Western Collegiate Hockey Association, in assists and points. He was the second-leading scorer in the nation, and tied for most assists among all NCAA players.
At the World Junior Championships, Stepan served as team captain for the United States and helped guide his country to only its second gold medal ever in the tournament. Stepan scored four goals, added 10 assists, and produced 14 points at the World Juniors, leading all players in assists and points.
“He was a major reason why we were so successful at World Juniors,” said Kreider. “We weren’t favored and he did an amazing job leading us. He gets people to come together, such a leader on and off the ice.”
Stepan, the Rangers’ second round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has had a strong week, so far, at the club’s mini-camp for prospects. His work ethic and skill level have stood out, and he has formed an exciting pair up front with Evgeny Grachev during the daily scrimmages.
“When he has the puck, he just doesn’t dump it in, he is smart with the puck,” Grachev said of Stepan. “He is a good play-maker and he can also score. It is really enjoyable to play with him. I’d like to play with him one year with the Blueshirts.”
Whether or not that year will be this one will be decided during training camp, where Stepan will join Grachev and others battling for spots on the opening night roster. One thing is for sure -- the calm, cool, and collected Stepan is not going to be overwhelmed by the experience of taking part in a National Hockey League training camp. Among all Stepan’s impressive attributes, perhaps his maturity level is what stands out the most.
“I just control what I can control, so I am going to go out there and put my best foot forward and compete as hard as I can and let the organization do whatever is best for me,” explained Stepan.
No matter his arrival date on Broadway, the Rangers can count on Stepan to continue to be one of the top prospects in the organization as he transitions from amateur star to professional hockey player this season.