Back to School: A brief Q & A with Arizona Coyotes center Derek Stepan
GLENDALE, Ariz. — As the Coyotes reported to training camp on Thursday, lockers were being prepared, pictures were being taken and people were getting to know the new faces.
It sounds just like a group of kids coming back from summer break.
“It’s like the first day of school and I’m the new kid trying to find friends as fast as possible,” Coyotes center Derek Stepan said.
Comparing Thursday to a first day of school is appropriate, especially given several of the players in camp are nearly young enough to be in high school. But Stepan — who figures to be somewhat of a class president as the team’s No. 1 center — is a proven, 27-year-old NHLer.
Stepan scored 50 or more points in five of the seven seasons he played with the New York Rangers, the only team for which he’d played before his trade to the Coyotes this summer. The seasons in which he didn’t score 50+ were his rookie year (45 points) and the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (44 points).
“High hockey IQ, plays a 200-foot game,” new Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet said of Stepan. “I coached against him (when he was) with the Rangers.
“Played power play, penalty killed, but he was always on the ice and you could see him directing guys on faceoffs. So he’s a leader, definitely.”
After the Coyotes gave up a No. 7 overall pick in the draft and young defenseman Anthony DeAngelo to get Stepan and goaltender Antti Raanta, Arizona is likely pleased to welcome a leader. They could use it for their crop of young talent; prospects who are still students of the game.
In the meantime, the first day back to school for those students is in the books.
What are your impressions of the change to Arizona from New York so far and your first experience with a trade?
Well, getting traded is quite the process. It’s a unique one. When you have to go from moving your family and your house across the country, it’s certainly something that can be overwhelming. But the Coyotes did an unbelievable job. They really made my transition and my family’s transition really easy.
As for the hockey aspect of it, maybe ask me in a few weeks. But I’m not worried about it. This locker room, this facility’s already blown my expectations out of the water. Every day, my expectations get blown out of the water here. So I’ve been surprisingly really happy with how great things have gone. I’ve had no issues that I was thought I was going to.
Your name was floating around in trade rumors for a while. Did you ever look at hockey news and see, ‘Where’s Derek Stepan going to go?’
Yeah, I knew — Let me put it this way: I kind of had always heard that the Coyotes were interested. You just hear things. It’s part of it. Usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I heard it last summer and nothing really happened, I didn’t think anything was going to happen. After the year we had, it was much more realistic. I felt like it was a strong chance of happening this year. I knew with the (trade deadline) coming up, it was a possibility. I would say I was surprised, but I wasn’t shocked.
Who was the first person on the Coyotes to reach out to you?
(GM John) Chayka. (Rangers GM) Jeff Gorton in New York called me and hung up the phone and then 20 minutes later, Chayka called me.
What about the first player?
I work out with (Alex) Goligoski. He called me right away. Luke Schenn reached out shortly after. I played with (Anthony Duclair) for a little bit so Duke sent a message out. There was a number of guys that kind of reached out — Max Domi. They kind of gave it a little time, they knew my phone was going crazy. “Goose” (Goligoski) was probably the first one because we were talking about it all summer. And then shortly after, a cluster of guys. (Kevin) Connauton’s agent — we have the same one — so he reached out. I talked to Antti right away.
How do you know Goligoski?
We just train together in the summers. We’re both from Minnesota and we just kind of ended up in the same gym together.
The expectation is that you’ll play on the top line with Max Domi. Have you gotten a chance to talk to Max a lot?
More of it has been off-ice stuff. Just kind of trying to fit in. You can’t force these things — if we start together, we’ll just kind of feel it out, get our feet moving and try to make plays by watching him. He’s a guy that makes plays every time he touches the puck, which I love. He seems like a guy that wants to talk and communicate with that. So I think it’s a good fit and there’s no pressure on it and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. We just try to figure it out and go day-by-day here and build our chemistry as fast as possible. We could click right away, which wouldn’t surprise me.
You seem enthusiastic to be here and like you just have a good attitude about it. Does that play into who you are as a player?
For the most part, I feel like I’m a fairly positive guy. There’s no sense in stressing out with stuff that’s garbage. My big thing right now is I couldn’t be more excited. This is such a great opportunity for me. It kind of is like a re-birth in the NHL type of thing for me — not that I needed it by any means, but, just a new start. I get to come into a different role. I get to live in the best weather in the country throughout the year, what’s wrong with that? There’s just so many positives that we’ve got to take apart once we got traded. Obviously it’s sad to leave your team and your teammates, but I’ve started to mold myself in with these guys and develop a relationship with these guys. The word excited has been used a lot with me.