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Leaving NY, Coyotes’ Derek Stepan faces more than a change in scenery

New York Rangers center Derek Stepan (21) celebrates at the bench after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sunday, April 9, 2017, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Rangers won 3-2. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

LISTEN: Derek Stepan, new Coyotes center

As Derek Stepan goes from the bright lights of New York City to the desert in Arizona, he’ll experience more than just a change in scenery.

As a center with the New York Rangers, Stepan played with the likes of veterans Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist at Madison Square Garden, the famed home of the Original Six franchise. He was under the spotlight of one of the biggest sports media markets in the world for a team that had made the playoffs in seven straight seasons.

With the Coyotes, everything will be different.

The Coyotes are young, and losing 40-year-old Shane Doan and 35-year-old Mike Smith will only make them younger. Some of who the Coyotes hope to be huge parts of their team going forward are still in their youth, like 22-year-old Max Domi, 21-year-old Christian Dvorak and 19-year-old Jakob Chychrun.

By comparison, the 27-year-old Stepan is a grizzled veteran.

“I love talking hockey, I love voicing what I think is going to work here and there, and I want to do that with these young kids that have so much talent and hopefully learn a little bit from them, too,” he told Burns & Gambo on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station on Friday.

“Heck, these kids– these guys can play. I keep calling them kids but I’m only 27. I’d like to think that I’m still a kid as well with these young guys.”

In seven seasons with the New York Rangers, Stepan has tallied more than 50 points five times — as well as a 44-point showing in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 year. Last season, he appeared in 81 games and scored 17-38-55.

“I think the Rangers were just trying to better their organization,” Stepan said when asked of New York’s motivation to move him. “They came up with a solution that they feel is going to make them a better team. This is part of the business, I’ve been around and I’ve seen some of my buddies go. This is how it works.”

“It just so happens that this time, I’m the guy that’s going. I don’t hold that against them. They saw an opportunity to better their club and now I get an opportunity to better the Coyotes.”

And while it’s known that the Coyotes have been embroiled in arena drama and ownership shakeups, there are positives for Stepan to look forward to in Phoenix. He joins a franchise with a wealth of young, skilled players that could lean on Stepan if and when they make a playoff push during his tenure here.

And along with Stepan comes his Rangers teammate Antti Raanta, the man who will likely replace Smith as the starting netminder. It also doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes added former Stanley Cup champion Niklas Hjalmarsson.

“I’ve been with (Raanta) for two seasons now, and this guy’s a stud,” Stepan said. “He competes hard, he wants more games and when his number’s called, he’s going step up and make sure he gives everything he’s got.”

So, with Raanta being at least one point of familiarity for Stepan, almost everything else will change. From a bustling hockey market in New York to one that is frequently called into question by the rest of the hockey world, Stepan faces a challenge — and a fellowship of teammates — unlike any that he’s been a part of before.

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