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Five Questions with Derek Stepan

Coyotes center discusses changes since trade from Rangers

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" will run every Tuesday throughout the 2017-18 season. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan:

 

Derek Stepan was talking about how his life has changed, in many ways, since he and goalie Antti Raanta were traded from the New York Rangers to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Tony DeAngelo and the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, which was used to select center Lias Andersson, on June 23.

There was the move from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference, of course. But this was an especially major shift considering he played seven seasons with the Rangers, his only NHL team.

Stepan twice scored more than 20 goals in a season for the Rangers and is being counted on by the Coyotes to be their No. 1 center. He had 55 points (17 goals, 38 assists) last season.

There have been off-ice changes, too. Stepan's household expanded by one during Coyotes' training camp when and his wife, Stephanie, had their second child, a daughter they named Weslie, on Sept. 21.

"It's been a little crazy in my household," Stepan said, chuckling. "My wife has been a rock star."

Their son, Max, will turn 2 on Oct. 27, and Stepan spoke about managing the balance between work and fatherhood.

"There have been some adjustments in the hockey-world sense for me," said Stepan, 27. "Also, there's been some moments where I've been wiser because of it. 

"I'd like to think I'm still young. But I do feel like I've gotten a bit older. Once you have kids you mature a little bit."

Stepan talked more about the move to Arizona, his early interactions with Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who had been an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and shared an insightful scouting report on Raanta.

 

Here are Five Questions with … Derek Stepan: 

What has been the adjustment to Arizona from New York been like off the ice? From the outside, it seems as if the two cities seem like they are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

"There's a bit of an adjustment in the sense of New York City is New York City, and at times, it gets a little crazy. You come here and it's more laid back with day-to-day stuff. We lived in the suburbs in New York.

"We still have the same amount of space. We're doing a lot of the same stuff we did when we were in New York. There's not a whole lot that's different."

 

Can you sense, from the short time you were on the ice during preseason, how good the Coyotes can be this season? Can they be better than people think?

"Anytime you start a year, as you get your team together, everyone is working extremely hard to make sure that you're ready to go right from the start. Everyone feels like they've got their group ready and they're hungry and all that.

"Starting Day 1, we want to jell. We want to try to surprise people. I really like where our group is going, the direction we're heading. Although there are some young guys up front, there is going to be some learning. It's a group that wants to learn. It's a group that is hungry to have success."

 

You played with Raanta in New York and can probably offer a better scouting report on him than anyone else. Do you think he can do in Arizona what another former Rangers backup, Cam Talbot, was able to accomplish with the Edmonton Oilers last season?

"Honestly, he reminds me a lot of Cam Talbot. When he was with New York, he had a great year, playing behind Henrik (Lundqvist). There's something to be said with these goaltenders coming in and playing behind Henrik and learning from him, and then being able to spread their wings and move on to the next spot and be a starting goalie.

"Antti is no different, in my opinion, then Cam. They both compete so hard. They're both awesome guys away from the rink. They work hard. They're smart goaltenders and are both athletic. The biggest thing is they were ready. They wanted a bigger role. They wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1."


 
Do you have any previous experience with Tocchet? What has been your initial take on him as a former player turned coach? 

"I played against him, well, I should say, I played against him when he was coaching in Pittsburgh. So I kind of knew what he wanted, how he wanted to play because that's what they were preaching in Pittsburgh. Outside of that, I really didn't know a whole lot.

"Since we've been here we've had some great talks. I think it's important in the new NHL that you develop a relationship with your coach. At the end of the day, the coach gets to make the last call. 

"But if the coach is comfortable in hearing what you have to say and having an open door … and he's made it very clear he's always going to have his door open for us. It's been great so far. We're slowly developing a relationship but it's been really good."

 

I'm going to put you on the spot. When the dust settles at the end of the season, will the Coyotes have been a factor in the Stanley Cup Playoff race? 

"I've already been asked that question a few times. I think if I'm talking to our group and preaching what it's going to take, we really need to try to shorten the season and focus on, right now, training camp. That's all we're focusing on as a group.

"Then let's take it 10 games at a time. If we are able to have success through each 10-game segment, we're going to be able to have a chance to be in the hunt at the end of the year. That's the biggest thing. I would still say that to you if I still was in New York. That's the best way to go about it. 

"The NHL is getting better and better each year. Anyone can make the playoffs. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Focus in on training camp and once training camp is done, we focus on our start and make sure we start the right way. If you get too far ahead of yourself, it's too hard to stay focused for an 82-game schedule."

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