This is the latest in one seems like a long line of injuries to key players to start the run-up to the 2014-2015 NHL season.
Stepan was participating in a full rink sprint drill when he fell to his knees shortly after pushing off. He hadn’t been on the ice since Saturday after he suffered a contusion to his foot after blocking a shot by Dan Girardi during an informal skate. Stepan had X-rays taken both before the Wednesday injury and the Saturday injury and they all came back negative.
“[Stepan] had been feeling real good the last 48 hours,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “He took the third X-ray, everything looked normal, he was good to go and then he stepped on the ice.”
Stepan has not missed a regular season game in four seasons. He missed just one playoff game and is coming off a career-best season last year. But he’s also in the final year of his contract and his absence exposes a problem with the Rangers’ line-up.
There are options for Stepan’s replacement, but none of them are overly satisfying. Dominic Moore and Matthew Lombardi are possibilities, but they’ll have to prove they’re capable of handling top-drawer duties. J.T. Miller had a good game on Monday, but progress in camp isn’t enough of a sign for him to earn top line duties.
The good news is that Vigneault has the opportunity to mix up the lines and find the right fit. The bad news is that the Stepan injury exposes the lack of available centres that continues to haunt this Rangers squad.
“I think we have a good list of potential candidates,” Vigneault said. “Now we just need to get them in situations and see how they respond to the opportunity.”
Responding to opportunities could be in the cards for Kevin Hayes, but he hasn’t played in a single non-exhibition NHL game. The Boston College takeaway could deliver the goods sooner rather than later, especially if the Stepan injury opens up some doors for him.
But again, this reveals a significant weakness in the Rangers’ organization. Without much depth down the middle, all the dynamic wingers in the world won’t change the tide.