The New York Rangers have been doing their best to adapt to some tough losses at the center position, but they could get their top pivot Derek Stepan back as early as Monday.
That’s the word from Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, via New York Newsday’s Steve Zipay:
Wording is obviously important here: Vigneault isn’t “ruling him out” for a return against the St. Louis Blues, yet he’s not exactly making any promises, either.
The 24-year-old suffered a fractured fibula in the preseason, which clearly isn’t something you want to rush back from.
It doesn’t hurt that the Rangers seem to be righting the ship, either. After losing three of their first four games, they’ve now won four of five.
With Stepan out and other key centers Brad Richards and Brian Boyle gone via free agency, Vigneault has been experimenting with different setups down the middle. Sometimes the Rangers trotted long-time right wing Martin St. Louis out as their top center. Other times they’ve asked Derick Brassard to test his limits with the top role. A healthy Stepan would easily be the preference, especially since his return would allow others to slide into more comfortable spots.
Stepan has some added personal motivation to boot.
He’s in the last year of a deal that carries a $3.075 million cap hit, and even as a pending RFA, he could really max out his earning potential on a line with St. Louis and red-hot Rick Nash.
That’s assuming that he this injury isn’t a lingering issue though, of course.
Update: He skated this morning, but in a no-contact jersey.