Rangers rookie Derek Stepan hoping to stick around NHL for a while

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GYI0061782060-stepan-andrewburton-getty.jpgThe preseason for the New York Rangers has provided a fair bit of intrigue. From the Wade Redden-to-Hartford situation, to captain Chris Drury breaking his finger, Vinny Prospal having knee issues, to today’s action on waivers with Tim Kennedy and Todd White there’s been more than enough drama for everyone in the organization and their fans. Out of all that, there is an upside and it comes from a rookie forward out of the University of Wisconsin Derek Stepan.

Stepan joined the Rangers in training camp after leaving Wisconsin early to turn pro and with inconsistent performance out of Todd White and Drury’s injury, the door has opened for Stepan to seize the opportunity and prove he belongs in Manhattan. While his former Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh was already sent down to Hartford, he’s hoping it won’t be long until they’re both dominating on the ice for the Rangers as the New York Daily News’ Jesse Spector finds out.

The duo were roommates throughout training camp, and Stepan helped his friend pack. At some point this season, they should be reunited – the question is whether that will happen on Broadway or in Connecticut.

“It could be just until injuries get cleared up and stuff like that,” Stepan said of his job with the Rangers. “But right now I’ve just got to enjoy it and not try to think about stuff like that.”

The Rangers are waiting for one center, Chris Drury, to return from a broken finger. Meanwhile, Vinny Prospal, who could have been the center on the top line with Marian Gaborik and Alex Frolov, won’t skate again until at least mid-October due to knee inflammation.

Their returns might force Stepan back to the minors, but he forced his own way to the NHL with three goals and two assists in five preseason games. After the preseason finale on Saturday in Ottawa, John Tortorella told the Daily News, “his play speaks for itself.”

Being a young player and impressing John Tortorella says a lot for Stepan’s play. Tortorella, while not against playing young players, certainly seems to prefer the refined edge of a veteran player. As it is with the Rangers of late, sometimes the situation dictates playing younger players more. Last season saw the Rangers start the year with Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy on defense. This season sees the Rangers at least starting the year with Stepan at center and Mike Sauer in competition on defense.

Stepan has a potentially bright career ahead of him. After a stellar year at Wisconsin making the NCAA Championship game and being captain of the United States’ gold medal-winning World Junior Championships team, it’s been a pretty good year. Being able to break camp and make the Rangers in his first chance would make for another ringing endorsement of the sort of player he is. While he may still yet end up in Hartford in the AHL at some point, at the very least he can make things difficult on GM Glen Sather for considering sending him back down.

(Photo: Andrew Burton – Getty Images)