March 16, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Rangers center Derek Stepan (21) works for the puck against pressure from Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

My Wish List, Part 4: Which New York Rangers Would I Want on the Buffalo Sabres?

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Buffalo Sabres have been officially eliminated from the 2012-2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s time to look ahead to the offseason!

Which, frankly, I have been doing for a few weeks now,  So far, I have shared which players from the Philadelphia Flyers, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Boston Bruins I would like to see don the blue and gold of the Sabres; today, I present to you which member of the New York Rangers I wish the Sabres would go after.

Derek Stepan, Center

Another young ‘un on my wish list, Mister Stepan is a mere 22 years of age.  He played his college hockey for the University of Wisconsin, where he spent two years before heading straight to  the Rangers.   In his first year in the NHL, he played all 82 regular-season games and scored 45 points, including 21 goals.  He was 20.  When I was 20, I was in college playing NHL hockey on a Sega Genesis; thanks for providing me with some perspective, Stepan!  Although, to be fair, I could pull off moves like this one, too, when I was rocking the Genesis:

Will Stepan by the elite, two-way center I spent most of this season imploring the Sabres to go out and get?  Maybe; maybe not.  He’s only good for 46% of his faceoffs this year, which doesn’t get him in the top 70 in the NHL, but that percentage is also up from last year.    He’s not the best defender or shot blocker out of the Rangers’ forwards, but he has shown the willingness to do whatever it takes to win the battles and keep his sacrifice his body if he has to.   He may not go full-bore like Steve Ott does, but he’s far more likely to do the sort of dirty work that a player like Jason Pominville shunned.   He’s shown improvement in every area of “weakness” that his critics were quick to point out during his first season, so there’s reason to believe he will continue to do so, which means he very well could be one of the top 10 centers in the NHL in a very short time.  And look at what Stepan can already give the Sabres: he put up 51 points last year, and has almost that many points (40) in only 46 games this year, leading me to believe that, if this had been a full season, Stepan would already be a 60, maybe 70, points a year player – in just his third year.  Give me a break!   He and Cody Hodgson would combine to form a formidable 1-2 punch, and provide the Sabres with two powerhouse lines, something they were sorely lacking for most of this season.

Perhaps what I like most about Stepan?  The fact that he bleeds, sweats, and probably pees, ice water.  He’s a cold-blooded, stone-cold killer.  On April 6, with the Rangers playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, Stepan only won 7 out of 28 faceoffs – yet Rangers’ coach John Tortorella stuck with him with the Rangers down 1-0 in the third period.  The result?  He won a faceoff against Brandon Sutter, feeding the puck back to Rick Nash who blasted a one-timer to score the game tying goal.  Said Tororella after the game,

“(Stepan) got killed (on faceoffs),” Tortorella said. “But I’ll keep going back to him, because he makes big plays at key times. After the no-goal and then winning that one (point) there, it was a tremendous lift for the team.”

In short, Derek Stepan already seems to have what it takes to be a winner, and for a team that is still trying to build that “culture of winning” that I have written about so often this season, acquiring him should become a top priority should he ever appear to be up for grabs.

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