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Rookie 'Steps' up to Rangers' top line

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
VIDEO: Stepan Highlights


By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com

When the Rangers face the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night up in the Canadian capital,  Marian Gaborik will likely find himself skating with yet another center, as head coach John Tortorella continues to find the right fit for the team’s top offensive threat.

Based on the line combinations from Tuesday’s intense 60-minute practice, as well as his own words after the workout, Tortorella will likely give rookie center Derek Stepan an opportunity to play with Gaborik up in Ottawa. Those two skated on a line Tuesday with veteran Ruslan Fedotenko on the left wing.

Rangers head coach John Tortorella said Tuesday that 20-year-old rookie Derek Stepan, left, 'is probably our best play-making center', which is why he wants to see him play on Marian Gaborik's line.
“This is our team and we have to be more balanced and certainly more consistent,” Tortorella said of the club’s forward line combinations. “It’s not always about helping Gaby. Gaby has to help (his linemates), too.”

While Gaborik has recorded a pair of hat tricks already this season and does have eight goals and 15 points in 16 games, he has not been a consistent offensive force. Most recently he skated with Erik Christensen and Sean Avery, but after notching three goals in Thursday’s 6-5 win on Long Island, that line was blanked the next two games.

Just as important, according to Tortorella, is the fact that Gaborik, Christensen, and Avery struggled with their defensive game Sunday in the 3-1 loss to Ottawa.

So now Stepan, the mature 20 year-old with 16 points in 29 games, will get the opportunity to play alongside the player who scored 42 goals for the Rangers a year ago.

“Stepan is probably our best play-making center,” said Tortorella. “He sees the ice and he’s a good player in all situations. It’s really exciting, for me, to watch him do the things he does. We’ll see what happens there.”

Stepan had the chance to play some with Gaborik during training camp and briefly during the regular season. On those occasions the rookie feels that he and the Slovak sniper had strong on-ice chemistry.

“It’s a special thing for me because there aren’t many guys in the league as good offensively as Gaby,” said Stepan. “Me and Gaby have a little connection, too. We always seem to play well together. One of the big parts of my game is making passes and it’s easier with him because he seems to find the right ice. I seem to find him quickly. We’ll see how it goes.”

The more difficult decision for Tortorella is not putting Stepan on the top line with Gaborik, but deciding who the left wing should be. Fedotenko, the hard-working veteran who led the team with seven shots on goal vs. Ottawa on Sunday, might land the spot, but Tortorella is hesitant to break up -- what the head coach considers to be -- the club’s most consistent line of Fedotenko, Brian Boyle, and Brandon Prust.

“I have to rob Peter to pay Paul to try and get some balance in our lines,” said Tortorella. “I have some other ideas of how we may go with it, so we’ll just wait and see.”

The Rangers will practice again at the MSG Training Center on Wednesday before setting off on a two-game trip to Ottawa and Columbus. The club returns home on Sunday to face the Capitals at Madison Square Garden.
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