11/08/2014 06:03 EST | Updated 01/08/2015 05:59 EST

Recovered from broken leg, Rangers' Stepan solid in season debut vs. Leafs

TORONTO - Derek Stepan exceeded his own expectations in his season debut after missing the first 12 games with a broken leg.

Stepan had an assist in 17:26 of ice time in the New York Rangers' 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night at Air Canada Centre. The Rangers' No. 2 centre was one of the sharper players on the ice despite this being his first game action since September.

"I think I was OK tonight," Stepan said. "Some game decisions a little slow. At times I was sharp, at times it was just OK."

Stepan had the secondary assist on Mats Zuccarello's first-period goal. On his first shift, he won the faceoff that led to Chris Kreider's goal just 53 seconds into the game.

The 24-year-old said he was "surprised" how quickly he adapted to being back.

"I think there was times when I made the quick play and I made the patient play," Stepan said. "I was happy with it for what my expectations were. But I was just excited to get back out there."

Stepan fractured his left fibula in a pre-season game and only recently was able to practise fully with his teammates. But that didn't stop him from bugging coach Alain Vigneault about getting in.

"He's been chewing my ears off for about a week here to get back playing," Vigneault said before the game. "We've just been really smart about this, being on the safe side."

Stepan slid on to New York's second line between Kreider and Zuccarello, recapturing some centre depth after the Rangers were forced to use Martin St. Louis there at points this season.

A year ago Stepan went through a similar situation missing training camp, though it was because he and the team were at a contract impasse and not the result of an injury.

"No training camp, it's a tough thing for a player," Vigneault said. "You can work as hard as you want by yourself in the gym, on the ice, but until you get into those game-like conditions and into games, it's tough."

Stepan wasn't happy that the Rangers blew a couple of leads to drop to 6-5-2 this season, but personally this was a step in the right direction.

"It was fun to play back in a game and kind of be a part of it again," he said. "It's unfortunate that we come out on the other end of this one, but it was good to be back out there."


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