Today saw the first game for the USA men’s ice hockey team in Sochi against group A rival Slovakia, powered by Boston Bruins star defenseman Zdeno Chara. However, when the Americans took the ice, it was obvious that New York Rangers center Derek Stepan was a healthy scratch for the first game for Team USA.
While it is not entirely surprising that Stepan was scratched in the team’s first game as he is the youngest player on the team and one that has no Olympic experience, it leaves you to question if he will be used at all by head coach Dan Bylsma. While the Americans won with no issues over Slovakia 7-1 today, the road ahead holds much more challenge. Will Bylsma save Stepan for injuries only? Or will he use Stepan to replace a poor performer?
Team USA brought five centers with them to Sochi: the Vancouver Canucks‘ Ryan Kesler, San Jose Sharks‘ Joe Pavelski, St. Louis Blues‘ David Backes, Colorado Avalanche‘s Paul Stastny and Stepan. All five are top players in the NHL and any would provide the spark and ability that is needed to win on this level.
With the top four centers being as skilled as they are both offensively and defensively, it would be surprising if Stepan took over a regular role from any of them. However, if an injury was to arise, then there is no doubt that Stepan could easily fill the role. On the other hand, Stepan could easily play the wing position and could see some time on the fourth line if its performance is subpar.
For now, Stepan should get used to the Olympic routine and pressure because he is sure to be a star player for Team USA in the future. Look for him to play a crucial part in the Americans’ quest for gold in 2018.