Derek Stepan has a big opportunity ahead of him this season. He’s up for a new contract next summer and appeared primed for a big offensive year on the New York Rangers' top line.
The question now: When will Stepan’s season actually begin?
The New York Rangers center fractured his left fibula on Wednesday, collapsed to the ice during a conditioning drill at training camp. He was helped from the ice by Marty St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers later announced that he had a fractured leg.
According to Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants, the injury may have been tied to an injury Stepan suffered on Sept. 9 when he blocked a shot in an informal skate. Stepan missed the team’s exhibition game against the New Jersey Devils on Monday.
He had 57 points in 82 games last season, and hasn’t missed a regular-season game in the NHL. (He did miss playoff time after breaking his jaw last postseason.) He had a corsi of 52.9 percent, although his impact on possession was greater in previous seasons.
Where do the Rangers turn now? Gross assessed the center situation:
Dominic Moore and Chris Mueller are better suited to a bottom six role.Rookie Kevin Hayes showed playmaking skills in college but was used on the wing the past two seasons and is still defensively raw. Matthew Lombardi had a rough first preseason game and will have to knock off a lot of NHL rust quickly to earn Vigneault’s trust for a top-two role. J.T. Miller did play well Monday but having him in a top-two role would be a huge leap for him despite all the progress he’s shown so far in camp. Rookie Oscar Lindberg has looked good in camp and is expected to make his preseason debut Friday in Chicago.
Moore might be the surest option in the short term, although one imagines coach Alain Vigneault will change up the mix to see if there’s a spark with a player like Miller.
Hayes, despite being a dynamic playmaker, would probably be eaten up as a second line center at this point in his maturation. But Blueshirt Banter thinks there might be a shot for him:
This injury does open the door for Kevin Hayes, the highly touted free agent out of Boston College whom the Rangers lured to New York in August. But Hayes, like Miller, lacks the NHL experience -- in fact, Hayes has never played a single professional game that wasn't an exhibition. More accountable in his own zone than Miller, Hayes looked to be in the "getting his feet wet" phase during his preseason debut against New Jersey on Monday night. Again, the team may ask him to accelerate his development, while all of this adds up to many question marks and many bad omens.
Vigneault expects the recovery for Stepan to be 4-6 weeks with this injury.
Hey, at least Vigneault and the Rangers know they can overcome an early season stumble.