The Ottawa Senators have been among the most active NHL teams this offseason. What started with selecting twice in the top five at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft was quickly followed up with numerous trades and signings to help improve the roster. Once the big selections in Tim Stuetzle and Jake Sanderson were made, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion signed Evgenii Dadonov from free agency, traded for Matt Murray, Erik Gudbranson, Austin Watson, Braydon Coburn, Cedric Paquette and Derek Stepan.
When the Sens kick off their 2020-21 campaign against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 15, there will be a bunch of new faces in the lineup and one of them is Stepan. Acquired from the Arizona Coyotes last Saturday, many people questioned why Dorion made the move. In any case, the pick that was dealt for Stepan was re-acquired in the trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning the next day, so it cost the Senators nothing to get him. While he’s a 30-year-old veteran with regressing numbers the past few seasons, Ottawa might just be the perfect fit for him to rejuvenate his game.
Stepan Brings Leadership
The veteran centreman has a great opportunity ahead of him. He has a chance to play a big role for the Senators on and off the ice. Last season, he finished with 10 goals and 18 assists for just 28 points in 70 games with the Coyotes. In the Edmonton bubble, he was very effective, recording five points in just nine games. He started to look like the old Stepan once the NHL returned to play.
Stepan, who carries a $6.5 million cap hit, is only making $2 million in salary on the final year of his deal. The Coyotes had already paid out the $3 million signing bonus he was owed, so that was a plus for the Senators. They received a veteran player, an expiring contract, and a low dollar figure in actual cash paid. He will be expected to provide the team with leadership for the younger players through his voice and play, and become a viable option at the centre for head coach D.J. Smith.
In a statement from Dorion, he said “Derek’s acquisition provides us with important stability at centre heading into the season. He plays a 200-foot game and has proven to be a reliable special-teams player throughout his career. His addition to our lineup will also represent a valuable leadership presence within our group.” (from, ‘GARRIOCH: Senators add veteran depth by acquiring Derek Stepan from Arizona Coyotes’ – Ottawa Sun – 12/27/20)
Stepan has also played 106 career playoffs games, more than anyone else on the Senators’ roster. It’s undeniable that he will guide the likes of Stuetzle, Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, Colin White, Shane Pinto, etc… The list of young players Ottawa possesses is vast and Stepan will have an impact on all of them. Dorion has always mentioned and made it abundantly clear that the team’s young players aren’t handed jobs. A veteran like Stepan will help where Smith won’t always get the matchups he wants, especially on the road in a tough North Division.
Stepan’s Fit in the Lineup
While the veteran presence and leadership voice in the room is a given, where exactly does Stepan fit on the ice for the Senators? As mentioned above, there will be healthy competition for ice time between younger guys like White and Brown, as well as more established players like Chris Tierney and Artem Anisimov. Because Stepan is expecting the birth of his third child in early January, he won’t be joining the team right away, especially when camp opens up on Thursday.
Under the terms of the agreement the NHL negotiated with the Canadian government, he’ll have to self-quarantine for seven days before undergoing regular testing and joining the team full-time. However, when he does, he’s ready for the challenge ahead and accepts whichever role he is given. In a Zoom call, Stepan said:
“I look at this roster, I talked to the coach (D.J. Smith) and I talked with a couple of the young guys already, and I really enjoy playing with a younger group. I like to be able to teach them and I really feel like at this point in my career and I’m ready to get back to that production I was at for a majority of my career. I felt really good in the bubble (in Edmonton). I felt like I played some really good hockey against Nashville and Colorado. I’m ready to go. I’m super pumped. There’s some family stuff that makes it a little bit of a hiccup. For the most part, on the hockey side, I’m as jacked up as I can be,”from ‘GARRIOCH: Derek Stepan is excited and ready to play whatever role the Ottawa Senators want from him this season’ Ottawa Sun (12/28/20)
Once Stepan arrives in Ottawa and hits the ice, expect him to instantly help out the Senators on the defensive side of the puck. He loves to get in the corners and pay attention to the details — something the younger, core guys might not get a grasp on quite yet at the NHL level.
Even though he spent the last three years in Arizona, Stepan has been a part of winning teams and he can also bring that to the table. Of course, he can relay that through his words, but a winning mentality starts with the play on the ice. He can hold players accountable for their mistakes and help them learn from them. He will no doubt get top-six minutes to start his career in Ottawa and fits anywhere needed for scoring opportunities.
In an upcoming shortened season, in the world we live in today, teams are going to come across their fair share of injuries and positive COVID-19 results. Bringing in Stepan gives the Senators options. He brings a voice, experience, and a winning mentality. All of which Ottawa needs to learn as they transition into a playoff contender once again.