In the first game of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia for the United States Olympic men’s hockey team, New York Rangers center Derek Stepan did not play as U.S.A head coach, and head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dan Bylsma felt Stepan was not good enough to crack the starting lineup thus making him a healthy scratch in what was to be a 7-1 U.S.A. win over Slovakia.
Since Stepan has struggled all season long since holding out in the offseason for more money and missing training camp, should Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault implement Bylsma’s strategy of scratching Stepan at least for a game when the Olympics has concluded and Stepan is back with the Rangers?
Granted Byslma scratched Stepan not because of his struggles this season, but because he just is not as good of a player as the rest of the Team U.S.A. roster, which is similar to an All-Star team. Still, I believe something needs to be done, from a Rangers’ standpoint, to wake up Stepan.
Stepan is supposedly the Rangers No. 1 center, but has played like a second line or even third line center for all of the 2013-14 NHL regular season so far. His linemates are Rick Nash and Chris Kreider and going into the Olympic break, we have seen Nash starting to cool off, after he was scoring goals at will, and Kreider being noticeably cold for weeks now.
Now while Nash and Kreider have gone through hot and cold streaks, Stepan has been the constant on that line, and by that I mean constantly cold. In my opinion, the center of a line is the most important forward position and no matter how good or bad your wingers are, if your center is underperforming, and failing to control the middle of the ice, then you will not have a lot of puck possession time and your numbers will go down.
I am not giving up on Stepan. I do think if he continues his subpar play when the NHL resumes, Vigneault should definitely sit Stepan for a game, like he did Mats Zuccarello earlier this season, and hope for some similar end results.