The Hurricanes made an addition to their bottom-six forward group last week, bringing in former Rangers, Coyotes and Senators center Derek Stepan to serve as the team’s fourth-line pivot.
Stepan spoke to the media via Zoom Thursday about signing with Carolina, here’s a full breakdown of everything he had to say:
On his shoulder rehab and his expected role with the Hurricanes: Shoulder rehab is going great. I had surgery in the middle of March, so I’m five months post op. I feel really good. I’m pretty much 100%. I was probably 100% about a month ago, so nothing’s really changed going forward for me with the shoulder. It’ll be 100%, full bore when we get to camp.
My role, honestly, I’m really looking forward to a new chapter in my life and honestly a role that I think I can be really good in down in Raleigh for the Hurricanes. I think you look down the middle of the ice, they’ve got three really strong centermen. I think it’s one of those things were I’m going to probably pop in on that fourth spot and try to help out on some faceoffs on the right side so that Vinny Trocheck doesn’t have to take 1,000 of them every single night. Help defend and really bring a balance to a lineup that I think is already super strong, and bring some experience, bring some new hunger and new energy to a group, because the last two years of my career have been weird and I’m in a certain spot. I’m ready to go earn my stripes, and what a perfect team to do it with, a team that’s already pretty strong in their lineup.
On his decision to sign with the Hurricanes: Free agency’s crazy. I’ll be honest, it’s a hectic, stressful few days. I think my conversations with the organization were really kind of the teetering act for me. I think when I was looking towards free agency, one of the things that I really hung my hat on was a job that fit me and an organization that wanted me to fit that role. I think between all the conversations I had and where my mindset was at, what I was looking for, this is a perfect match. We talk about, I wanted to be part of a team that is already well-oiled, ready to go, have been in the playoffs, know what they’re doing and know how to compete each night. I wanted to make sure I had a coach that I could relate to and have a good conversation with. As we were going through it, each of these boxes kept getting checked.
As we were going through it, the boxes kept getting checked in the right way. It was a good fit, and like I said, I’m very happy with the conversations I had. I feel like we’re on the same page, and I’m looking forward to a new role and a new chapter.
On playing with so many former Rangers teammates: Yeah, it’s crazy. Honestly, it’s definitely a plus. I know a ton of the guys already. It wasn’t the biggest checkmark at the top of the list, but it was certainly something that I really enjoyed, to have that opportunity to play with a bunch of guys I’ve already played with. There’s even guys that I haven’t played with that I know through the years. Jordan Staal, I’ve made a couple trips up there to hang out with Marc, so I know their family well. So it’s just a great fit. I’m really excited about how it panned out. I’m a really happy guy right now.
On if it’ll make it easier to acclimate knowing so many guys: The biggest thing when you go to a new team is you’ve got to try to get comfortable as fast as possible. It’s really the only way you’re going to play the game you want to play and contribute the way that you want to do. To know a bunch of the guys already, I’m hoping it’s an easier transition. My personality is usually, I kind of insert myself a little aggressively at times, so I guess it didn’t really matter what kind of group I’m going into. But at least some of the guys can give the other guys a heads up how aggressive it is.
On his time in Ottawa: I was in a really tough situation. It’s hard for me not to be completely honest about it. I get traded a couple weeks before camp. My wife’s pregnant at the time, she gives birth six days later. I get to spend three days with my newborn son and then I get shipped off to Ottawa. I’m up there without my family. COVID was going on so Canada was pretty strict rules. The whole situation was difficult. I have a lot of great things to say about Ottawa and their organization. I feel bad that it wasn’t able to have more success, but I’m looking at it as I’m putting it behind me. It was a tough, rocky situation and I’m moving on from it.
On being a veteran leader on a younger team: First of all, I’m just a puppy still. I like to think I can bring a lot of experience for these guys. Listen, they’ve been in the playoffs. I’m coming in alongside, I’ll chip in on the leadership side, but they’ve got their leadership group. They’re doing their thing. I’m not here to step on anyone’s toes. Obviously if you have success like they’ve had in the years, someone’s doing something right. There’s nothing that I’m going to bring that hasn’t already been said. I just think it’s a fit that when guys need someone to lean on, I can be there, I also think that, more importantly, I’m coming in ready to establish myself in a role and play a game without having to do a whole lot of mentoring, babysitting, taking care, of teaching, doing all those things. This group’s already pretty set on that, so I’m coming in to play and compete. I’m hungry and ready to go.
On being teammates with two players he was involved in the same 2017 trade with in Tony DeAngelo and Antti Raanta: Me and [Raanta], it just seems like we can’t shake each other. We’re stuck to each other for the rest of our careers. I’m OK with it, because he’s such an awesome dude. I don’t know Tony that well, but I’ve heard unbelievable things about him. I think it’s the perfect mixture of the three of us. I think it’ll be a good storyline for you guys to get bored with in about a week here and move on.
On Antti Raanta: I think the thing about Raanta is when he’s on, he’s so calm back there. When the puck is on him, it stays on him. I think that’s the biggest thing nowadays. If a goaltender can swallow pucks, it makes life easier. You’re not defending as long if he can settle it down and keep control of the game in a sense. So Raanta is competitive, and when he’s going, it’s like there’s a calming presence behind you. You’re able to just not worry about it. You know you’ve got to have that balancing act. You know he’s going to make the first save and he’s going to shut it down, so let’s just make sure that we don’t give up a second opportunity. He’s got a great mindset, and he’s one of those guys that he’s going to add a great complement to this team.