Throughout the preseason, New York Rangers and their fans have been waiting for their No. 1 center to settle his contract dispute and rejoin the team for the 2013-14 NHL season. Tonight, they get their wish when Derek Stepan returns to the lineup for the Blueshirts, as they take on Phoenix Coyotes in their first regular-season game.
Many concerns have been raised about the amount of time Stepan has been away from the team as they learn new head coach Alain Vigneault‘s system. Stepan missing the preseason means he still has not seen game action. Aside from several practices, he has not been on the ice with his teammates since the Rangers were knocked out of the playoffs last season. But I wouldn’t count on Stepan showing any signs of rust.
Stepan is a young up-and-coming star in the NHL. His poise and playmaking ability makes him one of the most talented forwards on the Rangers’ roster. His skill makes him too good for me to expect him to start slow. It’s not as if he sat on his couch eating potato chips waiting for a contract agreement to be reached. Stepan is a professional hockey player and is conditioned as such. It helps that he will be playing alongside lethal goal scorer Rick Nash and we should see their chemistry continue to grow this season.
I fully expect Stepan to come out flying tonight against Phoenix and to have a strong start in a season in which he has high expectations to produce a ton of offense for the Blueshirts. This is going to be a big season for Stepan’s development and tonight he will prove he is ready to solidify his place as a star in the NHL.
Martin Burns covers the New York Rangers for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more thoughts on the Blueshirts as well as the rest of the NHL!