Replacing Derek Stepan: re-create him in the aggregate

All stats for this blog provided by Puckalytics.com unless stated otherwise.

Most of the talk surrounding the Rangers this off-season is, rightfully, how the Rangers are going to replace Derek Stepan in their lineup. Say what you want about Stepan, but this narrative that he wasn't a "1C", or that his contract was going to be a hindrance to the Rangers in the future is just wrong. We have no evidence that shows that Stepan's career trajectory was going to start taking a hit. What we did have from Stepan last year was a career low shooting percentage, and the confidnece of the organization shook. Shook enough to move Stepan for futures. There ain't no such thing as half-way GMs.

But, we move on. Stepan has been dealt, and now the Rangers are tasked with 'replacing' him.

I find myself always thinking back to this scene from MONEYBALL where the scouts are hung up on replacing Giambi, Damon, and Saenz for the 2002 Oakland A's. Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta flip the script. We get hung up on names, we need to look past the names and to the numbers. You don't replace Stepan, you re-create him in the aggregate.

Thus, the Rangers aren't necessarily tasked this off-season with replacing Stepan. What they are tasked with, is figuring out if Mika Zibanejad is the guy to re-create Stepan on the top-line. If Kevin Hayes is the guy to re-create Zibanejad on the second-line. If Lias Andersson is ready to take on the third-line. If David Desharnais can re-create Oscar Lindberg on the fourth-line.

Our main focus, of course, flips to Mika Zibanejad. But first, we need to know what we're trying to re-create, and what the Rangers lost, with Derek Stepan moving to Arizona.

Combining the last two seasons of 5v5 play among NYR forwards, Derek Stepan was third on the team in raw points, third on the team in points per 60, third on the team in individual shot attempts, second on the team in relCF%, first on the team in relGF%, fourth on the team in relative shot suppression, and second on the team in relative shot generation, and third on the team in time on ice per game played.

On the PK, Stepan provided stability. On the ice for the team's fourth best GA60 metric.

On the PP, Stepan provided offense. On the ice for the team's second best GF60 metric. 

What the Rangers need to re-create, is an all-situations, top-line, effective player. And with the questions above, forcing everyone to step up a level on the depth-chart, the most important item the Rangers need to figure out is whether or not Mika Zibanejad is the guy to replace Derek Stepan.

For the comparbales below, I'm only using 5v5 data from last year so it's Rangers to Rangers data and not Rangers to Rangers/Sens data.

Obvious heavy-edge to Stepan here in most categories sans production per 60. Which, at least, is slightly encouraging. Had Zibanejad played 81 games like Stepan did, it's likely that he'd have caught up in goals (obviously), and perhaps even points. Stepan is what he is. He's a 55-60 point NHL player. Considering Zibanejad's production history, it's not totally out of the question that Zibanejad can also become a 55-60 point player, if not more. Offense is not where the Rangers are going to hurt by using Zibanejad in the Stepan role.

Where they're going to hurt, if anywher,e is in the on-ice impacts that Stepan had. An interesting piece to isolate this data may be to look at Chris Kreider. Both Stepan and Zibanejad spent quite a bit of time with Kreider as their winger last year.

Stepan with Kreider: 614:29 | 53.3 CF% | 59.5 GF%
Zibanejad with Kreider: 295:21 | 53.8 CF% | 53.3 GF%

Where Derek Stepan helps you is in his subtlety. His on-ice impacts in terms of both shot attempts and goals speak for themselves. He's going to log major minutes for you in every situation against the other team's best players. He's going to limit goals against, and he's going to score goals for the Rangers, or, contribute to goals. I have full confidence in Mika Zibanejad being able to replace Stepan's 55 points (like clockwork), where my hesitations lie will be in his on-ice impacts. Will he turn it around there? Playing a full season with Kreider will certainly help.

The Rangers will need Zibanejad to step up in a major way in terms of shot and goal suppression, as well as on the PK, if the envision him playing there. No denying that Arizona got one hell of a player in Derek Stepan, but the Rangers also got one in that trade with Ottawa last year.

Furthermore, the best thing you can do is continue comparing these guys. Use all the assets available to you. Draw your own conclusions.

Hockeyviz:
Stepan
Zibanejad

DTM xG

Corey Sznajder Rangers data