Last season was a breakout one for Derek Stepan. The New York Rangers‘ young center established himself as an elite pivot with 44 points in 48 games during a lockout-shortened campaign. In 34 games played this season, he only has 22 points. After a contract dispute wiped out his training camp, Stepan has struggled to reach the level he attained last season. If the Rangers are going to make a second-half push, they need the 2012-13 Stepan to show up.
Following his slow start after finally signing his new contract, Stepan has appeared to be distracted by outside issues. One of these is his desire to qualify for Team USA during the Sochi Olympics in February. What Stepan fails to understand is that his mediocre play will keep him off the Olympic roster unless he makes improvements in the next two weeks, as the roster will be announced during the Winter Classic Jan. 1.
Stepan is currently a -1 with six goals this season for the Rangers; this is certainly not worth what he held out to get paid for. If the Rangers are going to have any chance to break out of their current funk, Stepan needs to be one of the catalysts. As far as we know, he is not playing injured. If this is truly the case, he needs to stop making excuses and start helping his professional team win. Waiting with bated breath to see if he will head to Russia is not beneficial to him or to the Rangers.
To be sure, Stepan is not the only culprit for the Rangers’ struggles. However, he is being paid to not be a culprit. With the Rangers’ center depth razor-thin enough as it is, Stepan needs to be an asset, not a detriment, and the Rangers need it now.