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Stepan ready to lead youthful Coyotes

Center, 27, embracing elder statesman role following trade from Rangers

by Jessi Pierce / Correspondent

EDINA, Minn. - Center Derek Stepan doesn't consider himself an old-timer, though at 27 he has played seven NHL seasons and is four years older than the average age of his new Arizona Coyotes teammates (23).

"I still feel like a young guy," said Stepan, who is participating in Da Beauty League, where a host of NHL players with ties to Minnesota are playing games for charity twice a week through Aug. 23 at Braemar Arena. "But now I look at the lineup and I think there's only going to be one guy that's older than me up front (forward Jamie McGinn, 28), and maybe two or three guys on the back end (defensemen Zbynek Michalek, 34; Alex Goligoski, 32; Niklas Hjalmarsson, 30). It's definitely a new experience, but something that certainly doesn't worry me. I've been in a leadership role in New York and I'll just transfer into a new one in Arizona. I couldn't be more excited."

Arizona acquired Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta on June 23 in a trade with the New York Rangers for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Stepan, from Hastings, Minnesota, has 360 points (128 goals, 232 assists) in 515 NHL games, all with the Rangers, who selected him in the second round (No. 51) of the 2008 NHL Draft. He has at least 53 points in each of his past four seasons and was an alternate captain for the past three seasons. Stepan made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of his seven seasons, including the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2012 and 2015.


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Stepan hopes those numbers and experience help foster change in Arizona. The Coyotes haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2012, and finished 29th, 24th and 28th in the standings in the past three seasons, respectively.

"We have a young team with a lot of potential, but that's what's so exciting," Stepan said. "It's a new chapter for me and I look forward to being a part of building on something in Arizona."

Stepan brings a strong special-teams presence. He averaged 2:58 of ice time on the power play last season and had the second-most minutes among Rangers forwards on the penalty kill.

Last season, the Rangers ranked 19th in the League with a 79.8 percent penalty-killing rate. The Coyotes ranked last (77.6 percent). 

"The biggest thing as you go into a new team is, you can't change too much of yourself," Stepan said. "I have to do a lot of the same things I was doing in New York, and killing penalties was one of them. Playing in the big moments at the right time and doing the right things with and without the puck, all of those things stay the same. I'm going to try bring everything I can and try to show these young guys what it takes to be on the penalty-killing unit."

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Stepan wasn't the only new face Arizona added in the offseason. Former Coyotes forward Rick Tocchet (1997-2000), who won the Stanley Cup as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins in each of the past two seasons, was hired as coach on July 11, replacing Dave Tippett. Arizona also acquired Hjalmarsson in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 23.

"There's a lot of turnover, but a lot of excitement coming into the year with Stepan and Hjalmarsson coming in," Goligoski said. "Those are two experienced guys who are used to winning hockey games. As a whole, that's the culture we have to bring in there, so those guys are big additions. 

"Rick Tocchet for a head coach; as a player and coach he's been a winner, so he knows how to win and what it takes, so there's definitely a lot of excitement going in from all the guys. We weren't a successful team last year … We're going to be doing things a bit different and anyone on a losing team should be excited about that."

Stepan is ready to help the Coyotes reach new heights. 

"I think there are slumps that any team goes through," he said. "Obviously with a younger group you're going to have slumps that are new to players, but at the same time as a group we have to try to limit how long those slumps last and try to learn from it quickly. If you can learn from it fast, that's what makes good teams. 

"It doesn't matter if you're a veteran team or a young team, if you can learn from your mistakes and be better at it the second time around, you're going to have success. I think you're going to see more success in Arizona beginning this season and into the future."

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