Derek Stepan seemed to be on a path to stardom when he scored 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games last season. It was enough to get him invited to USA Hockey’s orientation camp for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics.
Rather than build on his success though, Stepan has regressed to the point where he has just five goals and 20 points in 33 contests. He has plenty of pressure being put on him this season and perhaps that camp invite has actually been a negative for that reason.
“It’s hard not to tell you that it’s not your mind as a guy that was invited to a summer camp and maybe could be a possible bubble guy,” Stepan admitted, according to Blue Shirts United. “It’s something that you think about.”
He added that it would be best to forget it and focus exclusively on the Rangers game against Calgary on Sunday.
The possibility of making the Olympic team is just one of the potential sources of pressure on him. He entered the season amid higher expectations and with the Rangers struggling offensively, he’s one of the primary guys people are looking at to step up.
He also was engaged in heated contract negotiations as a restricted free agent that ended with him getting a huge, but short-term raise. He’ll play out this season of his two-year, $6.15 million deal and then his agent could potentially start working towards a long-term contract with the Rangers. How he does in 2013-14 will have a profound impact on what that next deal will look like.
Ultimately, regardless of why Stepan is struggling, the Rangers need more out of him. The team’s shortcomings certainly can’t be blamed on any one player, but Stepan heating up would go a long way towards them turning their season around.