The red hot St. Louis Blues are in town, and three rookies, Derek Stepan, Evgeny Grachev, Michael Sauer, are dressed.
All are playing regularly, but for how long is an open question.
In his first NHL game, Stepan scored a hat trick. Since the momentous season opener against the Sabres, however, the rookie center from the University of Wisconsin has slid down the depth chart.
Stepan, who has just two assists since and was pointless in the last eight games before the Rangers hosted the Blues last night, isn’t about to be sent down, though.
“Not right now,” said coach John Tortorella, who believes Stepan, averaging about 10 minutes in ice time in the last four games, can “be used in different spots. I kicked myself. I should’ve given him some power play time on that five-minute penalty (against the Devils’ David Clarkson in the third period). We got him a couple shifts after that and he ends up getting a scoring chance, him and Pruster, and Frolov bangs the puck by the open net. So Step has struggled a bit, but also made some good plays.” The center still needs to improve defensively.
“He’s trying to finish an odd check, he’s trying to be physical or at least knock people off as they come by.” But Tortorella believes he is learning thanks to work with video and discussions with the coaches. He mentioned one mistake where Stepan got beat to the net. “He thinks the guy is gonna be covered. He comes to the bench right after knowing that he made a mistake. I think he’ll respond.”
The pressure is on Grachev, who has dressed for the last six games and could lose his shifts to veteran Todd White. “I got Todd White at this age (35) and Grach at this age (20) and I want to give him more of a look,” said Tortorella. “The catch here is that it’s a two-way street. Grach has been inconsistent as far as the things we want him to do. Whitey, probably should be in the lineup tonight, I’m still looking to develop our youth, but I also need to see Grachev answer here, because I’m not going to keep Whitey out that much longer here. He added to us (against the Devils), four shots on goal, two scoring chances, I’ve got to keep a close eye on that.”
Sauer, on the other hand, seems to have edged out North Bellmore’s Matt Gilroy, a healthy scratch for the fourth consecutive game.
On the third pair, said Tortorella, “him (Sauer) and Emmy (Steve Eminger) have given us a little bit of physical presence. I think it was Adam Mair comes in and sprays Hank and Mike---doesn’t get a penalty, doesn’t fight him, but he goes to him. Those are the things I want to see as our back end is evolving. And he’s 23. He had a good camp last year and this year and the thing I like about him is he’s played within himself.” The Rangers continue to look for a left-handed defensman (Eminger is playing his off-side) and that could change the equation.