Sunday, January 3, 2010

Stepan Up

There is a huge reason why we choose a picture of Derek Stepan (2008 2nd) in his Wisconsin uniform and that is back in Wisconsin Stepan is coached by Mike Eaves. As you go what is the big deal about that the coach who led the USA to a gold medal in the 2004 World Under-20 Championships was the same Mike Eaves.

Since last November we have been saying that Derek Stepan was going to become a huge player for the New York Rangers. If you have been watching Stepan play in the World Under-20 tournament then you too now see why we are so pumped up about Stepan.

Forget that Derek Stepan is leading the World Under-20 Championships in scoring at 3-9-12 as while that is great to see; what has been more important to see is that Stepan has elevated his game in every single 3rd period that the USA has played. How long has it been since the Rangers have had a player who elevated his game when his team needed it the most?

His play in setting up Jerry D'Amigo which not only bailed out fellow prospect Ryan Bourque but put the dagger in the hearts of the Swedes has been typical of what we have seen from Stepan during this tournament. The Rangers are going to be getting not just an offensive minded player but a solid 2 way player who shows up with a bit of an edge to his game.

We expect Stepan to leave Wisconsin after this season to sign a contract with the Rangers. We also would not put it past him to make the jump right to the Rangers with his work ethic.

Chris Kreider (2009 1st) has been the nice surprise for Ranger fans out of the World Under-20 and while his goal scoring has gotten the notice to most; for us it has been his defensive skills that nobody knew about. We did get a learning lesson from Kreider as to how to gauge his potential and that is Kreider is a raw talent who needs to learn how to put all of his skills to use at the same time.

Kreider against the Swedes showed his speed and his willingness to use his body but what he was not doing was using both in concert. Kreider clearly is a power forward of the future as you can see the skill set is there but it is going to take some time for it to come together as a total package.

One thing is for sure when it does come together then we will see Kreider and Stepan as part of a very good line.

Against the Swedes Ryan Bourque played his best game of the WJC even if he did not register any points. Bourque very much is a player who can handle the trap very well and if anything in time would become an ideal player for a trapping system.

Which makes us wonder why the Rangers drafted him as his lack of size was shown during the preliminary rounds as we watched Bourque be taken off the puck by the stronger more physically gifted players. Bourque is a thinker of a player and was able to solve the mystery of the Swedish trap when his teammates repeatedly could not.

Still what we will come away from these games about Bourque is that he made one very visible mistake in each game that almost cost Team USA. Tonight against the Swedes it was the delay of game penalty that Bourque took that Stepan bailed him out of with the shorthanded goal.

We are going to hope that it was just a run of bad luck as we know Bourque has a much higher hockey IQ than he has shown during this tournament.

But for now we are also going to savor that 3 Ranger prospects are going to do no worse than a silver medal as part of Team USA. It has been a very long time since that has happened and for Ranger fans these prospects have already given them a gold medal's worth of entertainment.

Rest of the Prospects

Roman Horak (2009 5th) and his Czech Republic teammates ensured that the Czechs will be remaining in the Top Division for another years after a 10-1 win over Latvia. Too bad as maybe being demoted would have sent a message to the Czech Hockey Federation that they need to make some changes to become more competitive at this level.

We know Horak, we have seen his game and in to be totally blunt; Horak was not used properly by his team and that sadly is a huge waste. Horak we have to wonder was being punished because he came over to North America to play rather than stay in the Czech Republic.

Still Horak has only 1-1-2 in this tournament even though with Chilliwack he has had way better numbers. That is alright as by next Saturday Horak will be back with the Bruins on his way to earning a Ranger contract.

Chris Doyle (2008 5th) scored his 1st goal with the Victoriaville Tigres as they were able to defeat the Rimouski Oceanic 5-4 in overtime despite blowing a 2 goal 3rd period lead. Doyle scored his 16th goal of the season in the first period for the Tigre on the power play as he adjusts to the new team and system.

Max Campbell (2008 5th) and his Western Michigan Broncos failed to score in their second straight game against 9th ranked Bemidji State. However Bemidji State was able to score 3 goals to earn the 3-0 win.

Campbell we are sorry to say is playing himself off the Ranger prospect radar in his junior season and it is a shame too as Campbell is a great guy who we happen to like very much.

Sam Klassen (2009 UFA) and his Saskatoon Blades finished off their tour of the WHL's US Division with a 6-4 win over the Tri-City Americans to go 5-0 on the road trip. Klassen did not score but was a +2 to tie his career high of +27 which he set last year.

Klassen was a victim of numbers when cut by the Rangers not talent as the prospect who hits everything that moves is going to be in Hartford next season for sure.

(Stepan courtesy of Melody Hasse)

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