Stepan and Brassard are good, but do the Rangers need a superstar center?

Bobby Bevilacqua

derick brassard and derek stepan 5-13

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

When it comes to forward depth, especially at center, the Rangers are pretty good in that respect. Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, JT Miller, Jesper Fast, Viktor Stalberg, Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg doubling as wingers.

More recently, the Rangers have seen a lot of improvement when it comes to the talent and depth of their centers. Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan have gotten better and better with each passing season, cementing themselves in the top six. Hayes has shown that he can be a playmaker down the middle, and Dom Moore and Oscar Lindberg are strong two-way forwards best suited for a bottom six role, or a fourth line player.

When the Rangers acquired Rick Nash, they were looking to add a superstar to their roster. Marian Gaborik wasn’t enough, and outside of last regular season, Nash hasn’t been a “superstar” per say.When you look at all of the top teams around the league, all of them have a superstar, and just about every one of them has an elite center, outside of the St. Louis Blues. The Stars have Seguin and Benn. The Sharks have Pavelski and Thornton. The Penguins have Crosby and Malkin. The Lightning have Stamkos and Tyler Johnson. The Capitals have Backstrom and, more recently, Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The most recent Stanley Cup champions follow this trend too. The Blackhaws have Jonathan Toews and the Kings have Anze Kopitar.

See the trend? All of the winning teams have elite, star players, and almost all of the teams have an elite center.

Derick Brassard has taken strides towards becoming one of those elite players, hitting the 40 assist and 60 point mark in the 2014-15 season for the first time in his career, and setting a career high in goals (27) this year. Stepan has recorded 50+ points in three of the last four seasons, with 44 points in the 48 game 2012-13 season, and he set a career high in goals (22) this year as well.

But when taking a look around the league, neither Stepan nor Brassard are really “elite” centers, and they may be better suited as a very good second line center. I personally think there’s still room for improvement with Brassard, and that he could hit 70+ points sometime soon. But as of right now, he’s not among the elite.

Steven Stamkos will be a free agent this offseason, and the talk around the league has been whether or not he will re-sign with the Lightning, and where he would go otherwise. It’s not often that a player of his caliber hits the market as a UFA, and he is in that upper echelon of NHL talent.

Signing Stamkos isn’t likely considering the fact that he will get a massive contract, and also considering the fact that the Rangers don’t have the room to sign him, but he’s exactly the type of player that the team need to help push them over that last hurdle.

The Rangers have a lot of talent and room to improve, but they’re missing a superstar to help guide them towards their goal of another Stanley Cup, particularly at center. If Rick Nash can’t regain his form from the 2014-15 regular season, they’ll need to get that player elsewhere.

For next season, and further than that, the Rangers need to do a few things with the forward group; start the youth movement and use the team’s younger players and prospects, and find that superstar.

With the Rangers cap space, it’ll be extremely difficult to sign someone with a heft cap hit unless the Rangers clear some cap space, which they should do anyway. But they have the potential to develop their own superstar.

Derick Brassard has taken strides to improve in the last two seasons, and I truly think there’s room for him to get even better than he is. Same goes for Stepan, who is just 25 years old. The team also has Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and JT Miller, three young forwards who have improved and still have room to grow as well. And with Pavel Buchnevich likely coming over very soon, he could turn into something special if the predictions about him come to fruition.

The Rangers need a few things to push them over that last hurdle and win a Cup, but they are in need of a superstar in their forward group. But that player may not need to come from outside the organization if the team plays it’s cards right and develops their players well. And with the way that Brassard and Stepan have been playing and improving over the past two seasons, their situation at center may be looking good for the long run.

Posted on May 8, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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