Derek Stepan had his heart set on making the United States Olympic Team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. On New Year’s Day he got his wish as he was announced as one of the five centers to travel to Russia next month. Now that this weight is lifted off his shoulders it behooves him to contribute at an elite level again for his professional club, the New York Rangers.
Stepan may be third on the team in scoring, but don’t let this fool you. For the amount of money he held out for in training camp, he needs to be playing at a much higher level. He had a breakout season for the Rangers last year, and so far he has not fulfilled the expectations of being one of the team’s top forwards.
Was Stepan’s goal of making the Olympic team a detriment to his performance for the Rangers? We’ll never know if this is truly why, but his mediocre play has lent credence to this theory. The Rangers team has played better as of late, but for the team to reach the level it wants to be at, Stepan has to be the No. 1 center the Rangers are paying him to be.
Now that he supposedly is free of distraction, it’s safe to expect a monster second-half of the season from Stepan. Obviously, he is not the only one that is expected to play better, but his play is a key factor to the Rangers’ fate.
If Stepan’s play continues to falter, though, what excuse will he have then?