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Stepan not worried about contract status

Monday, 08.26.2013 / 7:33 PM

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer / Olympic Orientation Camp blog

ARLINGTON, Va. -- There are 48 players at the 2013 U.S. Men's National Team Camp, but Derek Stepan is unique.

He is the only one who doesn't have a contract for the 2013-14 season. Stepan is a restricted free agent, and he has not come to terms on a new deal with the New York Rangers.

"To be honest with you, the best way to explain it as I've done my job this summer and I'm doing it like I would any other summer," Stepan said Monday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "I'm letting my agent and the New York Rangers do their part. That's something I don't have any doubts in either of them. I think both sides have an idea how they want it to go down, and I don't expect it to be too big of a hiccup."

Stepan had 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games for the Rangers in 2012-13 -- a pace that would have yielded 30 goals and 75 points over the course of a full season. He turned 23 in June and already has 140 points in 212 career NHL games.

Those numbers are almost identical to Mike Richards at the same age (Richards, now with the Los Angeles Kings, had 49 goals and 141 points in 211 games). Stepan's 0.66 points per game before his 23rd birthday places him just behind Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks (.71) and Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars (.72) among players who have completed exactly three NHL seasons before turning 23 since 2005-06.

Richards and Benn both signed long-term deals as second contracts worth $5.75 million and $5.25 million against the salary cap, respectively. Couture signed a "bridge deal," which has become a popular term in recent years. His pact was for two years at $2.875 million, and he will start a five-year, $30 million extension in 2014-15.

The Rangers have $2.18 million in cap space, according to capgeek.com, but there is some wiggle room. Two players, Chris Kreider and John Moore, are still on entry-level contracts and could be sent to the minors or have some bonus money deferred to the 2014-15 cap.

New York also has 22 players on one-way contracts, so at least two of those 24 guys wouldn't be on the opening-night roster with Stepan signed; moving two players to the minors (or losing them on waivers) would free up more space.

The Rangers need Stepan under contract. Not only is he their No. 1 center, a pair of potential top-six forwards (Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan) could miss the start of the season with injuries (putting one of them on long-term injury would also temporarily free up some cap space).

If Stepan does sign, he will be playing for a chance to make the United States Olympic Team. He fits the mold of productive, responsible centers USA Hockey looked for in 2010 -- Stepan could be part of a center group that includes David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski and Paul Stastny.

"I try to not to think about it too much. It is something that is in a sense kind of out of my control," Stepan said. "Obviously I can control the way I play and try to play hard and compete each night for the first couple months of the season. Hopefully I put myself in a situation where I at least have a chance. To be here is a start. That is something I'm very proud of, just to be here at this orientation. I'm honored to be a part of it."

2014 OLYMPICS POLL