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Derek Stepan preps for MSG return vs. Rangers

The former Blueshirt was traded to Arizona Coyotes this summer after seven seasons in New York.
Derek Stepan makes his return to Madison Square Garden as a member of the Coyotes on Thursday night against the Rangers. (Photo: Getty Images)

Arizona Coyotes forward Derek Stepan was probably used to a much different environment than the one he experienced on Tuesday night at the Barclays Center when taking on the New York Islanders. 

During the first seven years of his career as a member of the New York Rangers, these matchups against the Islanders were some of the biggest nights of the year. During an Islanders 5-3 win on Tuesday, it was just another early-regular season interconference matchup. 

Stepan, New York's first-line center last season, was traded from the Rangers alongside goalie Antti Raanta in June for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and a first-round draft pick. 

It's difficult to pick out which side got the better deal considering both teams are struggling mightily in 2017-18. The Rangers, who made the postseason in each of Stepan's seven years, are off to a 2-6-2 start. Even worse, the Coyotes have yet to win a game this year, starting 0-8-1. 

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While Stepan and his Coyotes are on the East coast, they'll stop at Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers on Thursday night (7 p.m. puck drop) to provide a reunion between the 27-year-old center and his former team. 

"I don't really know what to expect quite yet," Stepan said. "It's going to be an emotional night for me and it's certainly going to be a weird game but this is life and we'll see what happens when we get there."

Stepan appeared in 515 career games with the Rangers, recording 128 goals and 232 assists (360 points). More importantly, he was a glue guy for a Rangers team that made postseason appearances a regular occurrence during his tenure. He made positive things happen while on the ice despite not scoring more than 22 goals in a single season as he ranks ninth in franchise history with a plus-109 career rating

His hard-nosed style of play was a big reason why the Rangers inked Stepan to a six-year, $39 million deal prior to the 2015-16 season. It was expected to make the Minnesota native a Rangers lifer. But that was before the business end of the game interfered.

"I understand the business part of it and I signed a six-year deal intending to play my six years there," he said. "That's why we decided to go with the long-term deal. I wanted to be there. But business is business and the Rangers decided to try and better their organization."

Without his presence on the first line, the Rangers offense has looked out of sorts despite ranking third in the league with 323 shots on goal. Their shooting percentage of 7.7 ranks within the bottom six of the entire NHL. 

While times might be tough at Madison Square Garden, look for Blueshirt fans to take a moment and recognize Stepan for his tenure in New York on Thursday night.

They should know that the feeling is mutual.

"Seven years of my life was a big part of it," Stepan told Metro. "There were a lot of fun games in front of them and I have nothing but love for them."

 

 
 
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