The Rangers suffered their first major injury of the 2014-15 season on Wednesday morning when top-line center Derek Stepan suffered a fractured fibula during the team's on-ice fitness testing. It is not yet known how long Stepan will be sidelined, though he most definitely will miss the start of the regular season which gets underway for the Rangers on October 9.
Center - NYR
Goals: 17 | Assists: 40 | Pts: 57
Shots: 199 | +/-: 12
Stepan had been sidelined the past several days after hurting his left leg while blocking a shot in practice on Saturday. The 24-year-old Stepan was held out of the team's scrimmage on Sunday and the pre-season opener Monday, and after a day off Tuesday he felt healthy enough to return to the ice Wednesday. After undergoing a third x-ray early in the morning, Stepan was cleared to take part in the fitness testing.
"It is what it is, unfortunately Step got hurt," stated head coach Alain Vigneault. "He was feeling really good the last 48 hours, had the third x-ray done and everything looked normal and good to go. Then he stepped on the ice and unfortunately got hurt."
Vigneault listed J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Matthew Lombardi, and Chris Mueller as possible replacements for Stepan, and added that veteran Dominic Moore could take on a more significant role within the lineup by moving up into a top-six role.
"When this has happened in the past--when Step went down against Montreal (in the playoffs) and (Derick Brassard) went down-- Dom is a guy who stepped up, so that's definitely in our possibilities, though we have to let this sort out, too," Vigneault explained. "I think he's ready to assume a bigger role, and I know that's what he'd like. I do know that when we needed him last year to pick up some ice time he came through for us."
Miller has had a very strong start to training camp and notched a pair of assists against the Devils on Monday, while Hayes got his first taste of the pro game during that same pre-season contest. Lombardi, a 32 year-old veteran who recorded 50 points in 46 games while playing in the Swiss League a year ago, also played on Monday night, while Mueller picked up an assist on Ryan Malone's power play goal that same evening.
It is expected that Moore and Lindberg will make their pre-season debuts Friday night in Chicago against the Blackhawks.
"I think we have a good list of potential candidates," Vigneault stated. "Now we just need to get them in situations and see how they respond to the opportunity."
Stepan, who is entering his fifth NHL season, has recorded 197 points in 294 career regular season games, including a career-best 57 a year ago. He has never missed a regular season game during his career, and only one in the playoffs--during the 2014 Eastern Conference Final when he suffered a fractured jaw, but quickly returned to the lineup.