Derek Stepan starts off more than two weeks behind his teammates but more important is the Rangers’ 2012-13 leading scorer will start the season with his team next Thursday night in Phoenix.

“I’m not far off” Stepan whose protracted stalemate with management ended Thursday in the form of a two-year $6.15 million contract. “There are going to be some times where I need to catch up a little bit but I don’t think I’m that far off.”

Stepan who has been participating in practices with the University of Wisconsin varsity squad in Madison the last two weeks was scheduled to fly to New York on Thursday night. The 23-year-old will go through physicals and on-ice testing Friday and skate on his own Saturday before his first practice with the club on Sunday after the Rangers return from their lengthy preseason trip that concludes with a match in Las Vegas against the Kings on Friday night.

“I don’t think either side expected that it would go this long” Stepan said. “It was a tough year the cap went down quite a bit New York was in a tight spot and it was an unfortunate situation but I think we both handled it the best we could.

“There’s no bitterness. At a young age in my career I got to see the business side of it” said Stepan who has never missed a game in his three NHL seasons playing 212 matches in the regular season and 37 in the playoffs. “It doesn’t go as smoothly as you would think sometimes and that’s a hard thing to grasp.
“But we got through it without too much damage to either side and we’re both happy to be done with it.”
Stepan’s $3.075 million cap hit represents a team-friendly deal that leaves the Rangers some maneuverability as they prepare to finalize their roster by Monday. There will be some wiggle room through October if as expected Carl Hagelin is placed on the Long Term Injury list.