Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 11/19/14

When a rookie enters the National Hockey League and scores 21 goals and 45 points in his first professional season, you would normally consider that to be his "breakout" year. Those were the  credentials of 21-year-old Derek Stepan in 2010-11, and although he put up such incredible numbers as a freshman, I don't classify it as his breakout period. He may have surpassed the 20-goal mark, but I think even he'll admit to you that he was not the difference-maker he wanted to be last season. Mr. Stepan has a lot more to offer than 45 points, and we've begun to see why so far this season. 

Stepan got off to a slow start to this year, as it took five games to finally register his first point, which was an assist against the Calgary Flames. The kid's struggles reached the point to where they were clearly getting to him mentally, and all parts of his game were escaping from his control. Veteran center Brad Richards had a talk with Stepan early last week, about the time when Derek was moved up to play with Marian Gaborik, and since then there's been no looking back. 

In his last five games, Stepan has recorded a total of six points, four of which were assists. He's shown some serious signs of chemistry while playing with Gaborik, and that alone kept him at the top of the lineup throughout the team's four-game winning streak this past week. Gaborik put it best when he said "he's playing with confidence" when referring to his new centerman after Sunday's 3-0 shutout win over the Winnipeg Jets. 

That confidence has stemmed from the fact that Stepan has been able to find his game as a playmaker. He can score goals and he can play both sides of the puck, but the kid's vision and hockey smarts are where the gold is hidden. He may not be the prettiest of skaters, but Stepan's hockey IQ makes up for that. He sees and anticipates the play before it happens, which is why, as of late, he has been setting up so many goals for his linemates. 

A prime example is on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens when he fed Erik Christensen for a cross-crease tap-in on the powerplay. When Stepan first got the puck, he played with it a little on the side of the net, drew the attention to himself while giving Christensen time to get to the open spot on the ice, and then threaded the needle with a marvelous pass that went straight through both Montreal defensemen. 

No one on this team has the vision that Stepan possesses, not even Brad Richards or Michael Del Zotto. Don't get me wrong, both can move the puck pretty damn well, but they aren't on the level of Stepan in my opinion. The passes he makes while on the move are astonishing to me, especially while crossing through the neutral zone. As they tell you from day one in pee-wee's, it's important to control the neutral and prevent turnovers between the two blue-lines. Stepan has singlehandedly improved the first line's transition game in the neutral zone just with his passing. 

This is why head coach John Tortorella moved Stepan up to the first powerplay unit last night, in hopes that he would create more space and aid the team in gaining the offensive zone. Well, that surely paid off as it only took two periods before he found himself on the scorehseet with the man advantage. That was his second goal of the season, and then he went on to set-up Gaborik on an odd-man-rush later in the game in the third period. 

Lately we have been seeing the real Derek Stepan; the one who is out there to make a difference, not just satisfy with above average numbers as a third liner. Stepan's obvious strength in playmaking and last season, from what I saw of him, I probably couldn't have told you that. But this season is a whole new ball of wax, and Derek is right on the verge of breaking out and becoming the player that he was molded to be in Shattuck St. Mary's and with the Wisconsin Badgers. 

And best of all, he is yet another homegrown player that is destined for stardom. 

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Denver Nuggets fire Brian Shaw

Hamels trade talk motivating Red Sox pitching staff

Spiller: EJ Manuel learned not to be 'buddy buddy' with everyone

Yankees fire employee over Curt Schilling's daughter tweets

Ravens settle grievance, pay Ray Rice $1.6 million

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

A-Rod goes 0-2 against Yankees pitching machine 'Iron Mike'

Redick: Flip Saunders told me to ‘shut the f— up’ three times

Ohio native Brian Hartline to visit Browns today

Report: Jets owner urging team to pursue Darrelle Revis

Kobe Bryant: Wife suffered miscarriage during rape trial

Hernandez allegedly shot friend after fight over strip club bill

SpongeBob SquarePants: The newest NASCAR race sponsor

Winners and losers of the NHL trade deadline

Andrew Luck shaved beard, left mustache

Museum to give away DeLorean if Cubs win World Series

Jameis Winston looking to trademark 'Famous Jameis'

Maple Leafs burned on Twitter by frustrated fan

Keith Olbermann putting an end to his Twitter 'batting practice'

Prospect receives 75 cent check from Yankees

Flores: If Nick Young takes a shot at me, he's going to miss

Ten most underrated NFL free agents

Who received franchise tags at the deadline and who did not

WATCH: Whiteside, Len ejected after getting into wrestling match

NHL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Spiller: EJ Manuel learned not to be 'buddy buddy' with everyone

Ten most underrated NFL free agents

Five potential landing spots for Andre Johnson

Texas-Baylor fight leads to 7 ejections

Mark Cuban will be Prez in 'Sharknado 3'

Report: Redskins interested in Suh

Report: Revis likely to hit free agency

Steve Spurrier joins Twitter

MJ makes Forbes billionaire list

Nick Young fires back at Robert Flores

Sad LeBron literally looks in mirror after loss to Rockets

MLS 2015 season preview

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.