There are a few nations participating in this year’s Sochi Games in which if you are an NHL players you are a lock to make the squad. The United States is not one of them. The US team is a deep, talented and balanced squad which makes earning a roster spot a true honor. The New York Rangers 23 year old number one center Derek Stepan has earned that honor. The fourth year pro is the youngest American forward that will be traveling to Russia this February.
First and foremost, Stepan is a playmaker. He has notched 63 goals and 104 assists (167 points) in 260 career games, all of which have been played as a member of the Blueshirts. Stepan had his best year, production-wise, in last year’s lockout shortened season notching 18 goals and 26 assists, good for 44 points in while playing all 48 games of the abbreviated campaign. His production has dipped a bit this year, though. The Rangers have played 48 games, Stepan has participated in all of them, but he has only 7 goals and 20 assists (27 points) in that span.
He is a versatile two way player with the ability to play in all three phases of the game, a trait that USA hockey was looking for in it’s depth players. Stepan will certainly not be asked to play first line minutes for the national team; he will be a bottom of the line-up player, a role in which he could certainly thrive given his flexibility. His flair for the dramatic, as evidence by his 6 game winning goals last year, second most in the NHL, could very well make him a favorite all across the country during the Olympic tournament and beyond.
I expect the United States to make a long run in this tournament. I don’t see them coming home with the Gold, but if they were to pull off that upset it will likely coincide with big time performances from role players such as Stepan.