Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Shotgun Marriage

It is a signing that everyone but Derek Stepan, the New York Rangers and the Wisconsin Badgers are announcing to the world. Derek Stepan is going to give up his last 2 remaining seasons and sign an entry level contract with the Rangers.

The rumors started making the rounds late Tuesday night on the Wisconsin campus and have increased even more as the day has gone on. One has to wonder if Stepan's decision to leave Wisconsin was actually made back on April 11th.

The was the night Wisconsin was routed by Chris Kreider's Boston College Eagles for the NCAA hockey championship but it was not the loss that may have spurred Stepan to leave school. Forgotten by most people was that Stepan left that game with a combination concussion and shoulder injury.

Having seen how prospects react after suffering their first serious injury; one has to wonder how much that played a factor in why he choose to leave school. The Rangers on the other hand badly needed this signing to hide that if Stepan (and as well as Ryan McDonagh who will also sign shortly) does not sign with the Rangers then there would be a huge whole in the prospect pipeline.

Adding Stepan and McDonagh gives the Rangers 2 high profile prospects entering the system at a time when the draft class of 2007 should been turning professional. The problem is that the Rangers have nothing to show for the 2007 draft class due in part to the death of Alexi Cherepanov but the failure of the rest of the class other than Carl Hagelin to pan out.

For the Rangers this is a happy move for them to make as it gives them a high profile prospect to parade in front of some very angry Ranger fans. It allows them to say that they are building towards the future with home grown talent.

But the question every Ranger fan wants to know is was this the right move to make for Stepan? As much as we like Stepan we think he made this move a year too soon as Stepan is not ready for the AHL let alone the NHL.

Stepan in our eyes needed one more year to improve on areas like faceoffs, improving his shot and upgrading his defense. Another season under Mike Eaves would have done him more good than a season in the AHL where he will get less than half the practice time that he did in college.

Stepan also in our eyes is better suited for the wing in the pro level because even though he was used as a center at Wisconsin; his better play came while working off the boards. Stepan's skating skills are first rate and he will be able to hide some of his weak areas like defensive zone coverage if his forechecking improves as it should over time.

The other concern we have about Stepan is his body as his game feeds off being physical but he is just 185-190 so that has to be a concern as well. Had he remained at Wisconsin then his game would would have lifted him to one of the elite players in college hockey.

Now the expectations on Stepan are going to be much higher now than perhaps they should be. Stepan had the advantage of having a Geoffrion as a Badger teammate but that will not be the case at Hartford as they are going to have some rebuilding of their own to do.

But what does get us is if the Rangers decide to send him to the WHL over the AHL as then we fear Ranger fans will misread that move and think Stepan might be overrated. Stepan is not but at the same time another year at Wisconsin would been in his best interests.

The Rangers by getting Stepan to sign now basically turn Ryan McDonagh from a what if to almost a sure thing as we believe that to get McDonagh to leave school the Rangers had to first get Stepan. McDonagh who we have said all along is ready to make the jump to the pro ranks will be a much needed boost to the Hartford blueline.

McDonagh is a banger and has a very underrated offensive game but his energy that he will bring on the ice is going to be the best part of the game as he gets his teammates going. We see him as needing about half a season in Hartford adjusting to the speed of the game at the next level but everything else says he will do fine.

When he does make the Rangers it will not be hard for him to pass Gilroy and Girardi on the depth charts. For us the best possible use for McDonagh is going to be as a partner for Del Zotto as McDonagh is going to be able to be ideal because of his defensive skills but also because his skating strength will help cover when Del Zotto makes a defensive zone mistake.

McDonagh is going to fool a lot of people with his game as he is one of those players who stats will never tell the story of his contributions on the ice. Instead what what the other team's offensive players do not do in a game when facing McDonagh.

Still the Rangers come away big winners here as now they can use these 2 prospects to cover for the expected exodus of several Hartford players during the off-season. What these signings also do is take the pressure off the Rangers to pick someone in the draft who has to produce right away.

The Rangers who need a right wing as well as another defender can now look at perhaps taking someone who is heading to a US college or a player that we get asked about in Emerson Etem.

Adding Stepan along with Werek, Kreider and Hagelin to the system could open the door for the Rangers to select the California born Etem. Etem who played for Medicine Hat in the WHL last season has all the tools to be an solid NHL player if one can overlook his being 5'11.

Etem is a superior skater who also does a solid job with his puck handling but what blows us away is his work ethic. Despite his size, Etem is not going to get out worked or out fought for a puck nor does this goal scorer need anyone to set him up for scoring chances as he can create his own.

We also think that signing Stepan (and McDonagh) is going to open the door for the Rangers to actually make some moves (hopefully positive ones) rather than wait for July 1 and look once again at free agency.

(Stepan courtesy of Melody Hasse)


atlwirelesstr said...

Thanks for your insight, I always enjoy hearing your take. This is one of the best places to find out info on the Rangers youth and prospects. Hats off to you. Thanks again.

Jess Rubenstein said...

Memo to Jim

ROFLMAO thanks for the laugh buddy.

and thank you for keep coming back to read my work.