Derek Stepan is the wise old head the Ottawa Senators need right now.
We were treated to a fairly significant trade on Saturday when the Ottawa Senators sent a Second Round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft to the Arizona Coyotes for veteran forward Derek Stepan.
It was an absolute haul and a hell of a steep price to pay for a 30-year-old center who will become an Unrestricted Free Agent after the 2020-21 season, especially for a team like the Senators who are in the midst of a mass teardown right now.
The trade left more than a few fans scratching their heads, and a large slice of Ottawa fans were confused as to why their team would give up a valuable draft pick in exchange for an aging forward who carries an Average Annual Value of $6.5 million.
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However, there does seem to be method in the Ottawa Senators’ madness, and we’re going to explain why this trade might actually be a good move.
So, firstly, we’ll preface this by agreeing that sending a Second Round selection to the Coyotes for a 30-year-old forward who recorded just 28 points (10 G, 18 A) in 70 regular season games in 2019-20, and who also carries a hefty $6.5 million cap hit, is a steep price to pay and it isn’t the kind of move you make when you are in full rebuild mode.
I mean, the Senators also made a point of shedding a plethora of veterans during the offseason, letting the likes of Bobby Ryan, Ron Hainsey, Mark Borowiecki and Craig Anderson all hit the open market, which makes the Derek Stepan addition even more confusing.
However, as I wrote here, adding some veterans to this young and exciting core isn’t a bad idea and it could help to accelerate their maturation process somewhat.
And that’s why Derek Stepan is a good fit for this Senators team, immediately becoming a mentor and a wise old head for some of the franchise’s most prized assets.
Boasting 739 career NHL regular season games under his belt with 479 points (167 G, 312 A), in addition to 54 points (20 G, 34 A) in 106 Stanley Cup Playoffs games, Stepan is an established veteran in the National Hockey League.
He’s a model professional and is renowned for his work ethic on and off the ice in addition to his approach to the game, while he was also a critical piece of the New York Rangers leadership group during their last sustained postseason run.
Stepan was an Alternate Captain for the Blueshirts and arguably his best moment with the Rangers came in 2014-15 when he scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals to put New York into the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.
Able to come up clutch in the biggest moments, a true leader on and off the ice and having gone deep in the postseason on multiple occasions, Stepan’s wealth of experience will be invaluable to this young Senators core.
Just think of how beneficial it will be for Brady Tkachuk to have someone in the ilk of Stepan to watch, learn from and also lean on during the course of the 2020-21 season.
Tkachuk is riding a rapid trajectory towards being one of the best young forwards in the NHL, but he will endure slumps in his early career, particularly on a rebuilding team, and Stepan has been there, done it and got the t-shirt so he can really take Tkachuk under his wing and play an active role in the center’s development.
Stepan can also do that for the likes of Colin White, Logan Brown and even the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, Tim Stuetzle, who could start the 2020-21 season on Stepan’s wing on the second-line.
In what will be a shortened and congested 56-game schedule in 2020-21, the pressure on rookies to make a positive first impression will skyrocket, so playing on a line with an established and proven veteran could pay dividends for Stuetzle, as opposed to playing alongside another young player still cutting their teeth in the NHL.
Tkachuk and Stuetzle in particular both carry the long-term hopes of this beaten and battered franchise on their shoulders, so having someone in Stepan they can turn to and seek advice from will only be a positive thing for both their short-term and long-term development.
There are on-ice benefits to having Derek Stepan on the roster for the Senators too.
While the last two years have been down years, Stepan did record five straight seasons of 50 or more points, including putting up 56 (14 G, 42 A) in 82 games in 2017-18.
That is only two years ago and, while the 30-year-old may not get back to 50 points again in 2020-21 considering that he will be playing on a rebuilder, he could put up between 30-40 points considering that he will now be a focal point of that top-six forward unit.
Also, able to play a real 200-foot game, responsible in his own zone and able to play in all situations, Stepan can log major minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill and you can also trust him to put him on the ice in crunch time.
If you need Stepan to eat big minutes he can do that too while, at six-foot and 196 pounds, the right shot can provide a physical presence for Ottawa and stand up for his younger teammates if the situation calls for it.
Yes, they gave up a Second Round pick in 2021 but if Stepan pans out and has a big year while being the mentor for their young guns, then that could prove to be invaluable down the road.
And the Senators can always flip Stepan at the Trade Deadline and try to get a pick or two back if they can should things not pan out as they had hoped.
Overall, though, while many did not see this move coming, acquiring a well-respected veteran in the ilk of Derek Stepan could actually prove to be a smart play by the Ottawa Senators with the forward the ideal role model and mentor for their swathe of young talent.