GLENDALE - New Coyotes center Derek Stepan toured the Phoenix metropolitan over the holiday weekend, starting what he hopes will be a quick transition period for he and his wife, Stephanie, who is expecting their second child in early September. The plan is for the Stepans to get into a new home in the Valley by early August so they have a month to prepare for the start of the next chapter of their lives.
"We have family members that are already talking about how excited they are to be able to leave Minnesota and come down to Arizona to watch hockey and escape the winter," Stepan said. "Our whole family is really excited about enjoying the nice warm weather throughout the year."
Meanwhile, the Coyotes are excited about Stepan, whom they acquired, along with goalie Antti Raanta, from the New York Rangers for the No. 7 pick in the NHL Draft and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo a few hours before the start of last month's draft. They've already declared him the team's top-line center, and are expecting him to create plays, play solid defense, and help solidify both the power-play and penalty-kill units.
"We had a tough year and then we had a tough result in the lottery," Coyotes General Manager John Chayka said. "We just feel we've got another first-round pick this year and a lot of great young players, and they need some stability; they need some good veteran players around them ... Derek Stepan's a guy who can fill that hole. I got a chance to make that move and I wasn't going to miss it."
Stepan's hockey resume is quite impressive.
In his first 515 NHL games, all with the Rangers, the native of Hastings, Minn., produced 128 goals and 232 assists, and four consecutive 53-point-or-better seasons.
Before that, Stepan was a second-round pick (51st overall) by the Rangers in the 2008 NHL Draft out of prep school Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota. He led that hockey powerhouse to back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008, and produced 44 goals and 111 points in 60 games as a senior.
Stepan then starred at the University of Wisconsin for two seasons, and during that time he captained Team USA to the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship, in which he led all scorers with 14 points.
Stepan turned pro after two college seasons and made a huge splash in the NHL as a 20-year-old by becoming just the fourth player in League history to notch a hat trick in his debut, which he did vs. goalie Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres on Oct., 9, 2010. (Toronto's Auston Matthews joined that club last season when he scored four goals in his NHL debut.)
In 2011, Stepan was named an NHL All-Star.
Stepan is proud of his past but excited about the future. Now 27, he's eager to be part of the leadership group for the up-and-coming Coyotes.
"I want to be able to help younger guys," Stepan said. "They're at such a fun part of their careers - new to the NHL … It's crazy how fast it goes by so you have to try to do your best to slow the moments down and enjoy them as much as you can. But at the same time you have to understand that you only get so many kicks at the can."
Stepan is a grizzled veteran of the Stanley Cup Playoffs having played 97 games. With four years left on his contract, he's hoping to get back to the post-season soon with Arizona.
"I love the idea of continuing to be a better leader and finding ways to lead in all different types of atmospheres," Stepan said. "... It's funny, a lot of the guys in New York always say that I X-and-O it up too much. I love talking the game. I love being a part of talking a play through with somebody … I'm 27 years old, I don't really feel I'm an older guy yet. But to be able to talk with some of these younger guys and maybe teach them some of the things that I know, and learn from them, too, is something that I've always done. I learned that from Marty St. Louis. That's someone who taught me how to sit down and watch your game and figure out how you can be better on the mental side and how you can be better throughout the game. I talk a lot of hockey. That's something that I'm known for and that I'm going to continue to do."