Top line center Derek Stepan has steadily emerged as one of the Rangers' cornerstone players.
Top line center Derek Stepan has steadily emerged as one of the Rangers' cornerstone players.
Scott Lev/NHLI via Getty Images

NEW YORK (AP) -- Derek Stepan is back in the fold with the New York Rangers, agreeing to a two-year contract that should have him back on the ice in time for the season opener.

Negotiations had been tense in recent days as the sides worked on a deal to get the restricted free-agent forward signed and into training camp. A contract was finally worked out Thursday, one week before the Rangers start the regular season at Phoenix.

The 23-year-old Stepan, expected to be the Rangers' No. 1 center, led the team with 44 points last season and was second to Rick Nash with 18 goals while playing all 48 games of the lockout-shortened campaign.

He had been seeking $3.5 million per season, while the Rangers were offering around $3 million. The new deal is for a total of $6.15 million - $2.3 million this season and $3.85 million in 2014-15.

Signing Stepan was a critical move for the Rangers, who are starting the season under new coach Alain Vigneault without captain Ryan Callahan and speedy winger Carl Hagelin - both recovering from shoulder operations.

Stepan set career highs last season with a plus-25 rating and six game-winning goals. He tied his high with four power-play goals.

Stepan went over the 40-point mark for the third straight season, tying for the NHL lead with four short-handed points.

In 12 playoff games, Stepan had a career-best four goals - including winners in Games 3 and 4 of New York's first-round victory over Washington.

In 212 regular-season NHL games overall, Stepan has 56 goals and 140 points.

MORE: Eastern Conference Power Rankings | Rangers' Cup window open or closing?

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