How will Stepan’s return shake up the roster?

Derek Stepan (Scott Levy / Getty)

Derek Stepan in non-contact jersey. Photo by Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

Eleven games into the 2014-2015 season and I’m not sure if this is the New York Rangers, or their injury prone neighbors, the New York Yankees. Before preseason games even started Derek Stepan fractured his fibula, which was followed by injuries to Dan Boyle, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, and Kevin Klein.

The Blueshirts already filled their holes on defense by calling up Conor Allen, and Dylan McIlrath, but they must slim down their numbers at forward. Once Stepan returns, the Rangers will have 14 forwards, including 5 centers (Stepan, Derek Brassard, Dominic Moore, Kevin Hayes, and Chris Mueller). In addition to the abundance of forwards, the Rangers will be over the salary cap, so all signs point to at least one demotion for Stepan to return.

Kevin Hayes Photo by Howard Simmons/New York Daily News

For now, the real roster spot battle is between rookie Kevin Hayes, and Chris Mueller. Both are centers, and because Stepan, Brassard, and Moore are locks for the lineup every night, that only leaves room for one more pivot.

Hayes has appeared in 8 of the Rangers 11 games so far, posting 4 points and a plus minus of -1. Mueller started the season in Hartford, but has played in all 6 games since getting called up, adding a goal and an assist with a plus minus of -1.

Hayes already beat out Mueller for a roster spot in training camp, and remained with the team over players with more experience such as J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast, so I don’t see why he would be sent down at this point.

Another player who could be sent down is veteran Ryan Malone. After earning his roster spot after training camp Malone has only played in 6 scattered games without producing a point. Malone was placed on and cleared waivers on Monday. He then suited up for the Rangers against the St. Louis Blues when Mats Zuccarello couldn’t go.

Should the Rangers decide to demote him, he would not have to be placed on waivers again, he would be sent straight down. However, it is another question if he would report to Hartford, or pull a Matt Lombardi and terminate his contract.

The question still remains, when will Stepan actually return? Alain Vigneault put this out there as reported by the NY Post:

“Step has been medically cleared, but unfortunately, because of circumstances, we haven’t been able to have at least one team practice,” Vigneault said. “He’s been on three optionals, and he hasn’t been on one full-team practice. So I say to you that the chances of me playing him [Wednesday] are very, very slim.”

So whether it’s tonight against Detroit or Saturday in Toronto, Derek Stepan will be a sight for sore eyes. Either way, Rangers fans have to be excited to get their alternate captain, and number 1 pivot back, bringing another important piece back into the lineup.

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