A month ago, Rangers fans were more than willing to see the struggling Derek Stepan sent to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O'Reilly.
While Stepan offered more offensively than O'Reilly, Rangers fans felt O'Reilly's superior face-off ability and toughness made him a much more viable option for the Blueshirts.
Since those rumors, Stepan has gone on an absolute tear. While initially, Rick Nash was the catalyst for Stepan's turn around, he has continued to light up his opponents even after the superstar winger was taken off his line.
In his last seven games, Stepan has 4g, 4a and has separated himself from Brad Richards as the Rangers top center.
Not only is Stepan doing it five-on-five, he's also been a standout on the Rangers resurgent power play as well as the penalty kill. Heck, he's even been at 50% on faceoffs lately.
Here's his short-handed goal last night…
And if you needed further proof of how well Stepan's playing, he actually made Michael Haley look like a scoring threat last night.
He is also blessed with the leadership qualities you love in a young player and is the perfect candidate to have a letter on his chest very soon. Maybe in two years after the Rangers use their amnesty buyout on Richards.
Stepan is in the final year of his entry level contract that pays him $875,000 this season. He will be an RFA this summer and with the cap decreasing next year it'll be real interesting to see how contract negotiations will transpire this off-season. Sadly, I can see things getting a bit ugly similar to when Dubinsky was a free agent.
Unfortunately for Stepan, as an RFA the Rangers have the upper hand. Just ask Michael Del Zotto.