Derek Stepan’s maturity is astounding when you consider he is just 21 years old.
It would be easy for anyone to feel a sense of satisfaction for a job well done with Atlantic Division Championship hats and t-shirts folded neatly at each athlete’s stall in the Greenburgh practice facility Monday. Yet the second-year center from Wisconsin was eying the possibility of what could be.
“We’re happy with what we did this season. but we have bigger fish to fry now. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. They’re nice t-shirts and they show what kind of year we had,” Stepan said of the swag. “Very happy about it, but we have bigger things to worry about.”
Stepan is the quiet kid on a team populated by star power and outsized personalities. But make no mistake about it, if the Rangers are to advance deep into the playoffs, Stepan, whom Brandon Dubinsky termed “a great player” toward the end of the regular season, will be a key contributor.
“They’re all different players, but everything is the same mindset. Play the same style. How we do it is a little bit different if you’re playing with Marian or Callahan or Dubinsky,” Stepan said. “Everyone is different. Everyone has a different style, but we all have the same idea.”
Stepan drives power play
One area in which head coach John Tortorella tinkered with personnel was on the power play. He ended the regular season with Stepan on the left point and Michael Del Zotto on the right point.
The Rangers were 10-for-49 (20.4 percent) with the man advantage in their final 14 games after sitting at 14.7 percent in their first 68 games. Del Zotto tallied a goal and two assists while Stepan had a goal and three assists during the 14-game stretch.
“I just think they work well together. I’m not sure if Michael feels more comfortable with him,” Tortorella said of the new pairing. “Since we moved Step there I think it’s just more [fluid].”
Although a pass-first centerman, among the overriding impressions of Stepan’s season is that he began to display a flair for scoring important goals. Four of his 17 goals were game-winners.
“That’s a tough question. I don’t really know,” Stepan said when asked to describe his thought process. “Work on things in practice and it becomes second nature in games. [If] it’s a loose puck, you bounce on it and take a quick shot. Just second nature. It’s all so quick; it’s in the moment.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for all the latest news on the Rangers' playoff push.