by Drew Sarver
Before the season started we previewed the current New York Rangers squad. One of the biggest question marks for the season was, where will scoring come from? Two names came to the forefront as players that needed to step up in order for the Rangers to build on last season’s success as Eastern Conference champions. Veteran Rick Nash, a former two-time 40-goal scorer, was one of the players mentioned and the other was 23-year old Chris Kreider.
Nash has done his part so far – entering play on Wednesday night, he led the NHL with eight goals. The speedy, aggressive Kreider showed flashes of brilliance over the 89 games he played in his first year-plus in the league, but his 37 points in 66 games last season was a disappointment. He finished 10th in the Rookie of the Year voting, a “mere” 1,100 votes behind the Calder Trophy winner, Colorado’s Nathan McKinnon. Expectations for this season are high for Kreider and so far #20 has come through.
Tuesday night the Rangers met one of their arch rivals, the New Jersey Devils, for the first time this season. Down 3-1 on the road the Rangers rallied to tie the game in the third period, with Nash getting the goal that knotted things at three apiece. Kevin Klein wristed the game winner past Devils’ goalie Corey Schneider at 2:04 into overtime, But it was the play of Kreider that made things happen. The left winger picked up the puck behind his own net and skated it out of the defensive zone. He made a give and go pass with Chris Mueller as they crossed the red line and then charged towards the Devils’ net. He turned his back to Schneider and fed the puck on to Klein’s stick.. The defenseman, trailing on the play, beat Schneider with a swift shot for the game winner.
It’s that type of play, a mixture of speed and strength that team President/GM Glen Sather was counting on when he selected Kreider with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft. A product of Masconomet Regional High School and Phillips Academy, the Massachusetts native played three seasons at Boston College and was a member of the 2010 NCAA squad that beat Wisconsin for the national championship. Kreider found the back of the opponent’s net 49 times in 114 regular season collegiate games and finished his college career with just under a point (112 total) per game average. He also amassed 129 penalty minutes as part of the physical part of his game.
Kreider added to his amateur resume with six goals in the 2010 World Junior championships won by the US. He added four more tallies when the US finished in third place a year later. With Kreider ready to go pro and the Rangers lacking scoring as they entered the playoffs, the team added the then-20-year old to their postseason roster. Though he was on the ice for just 51 minutes in the opening seven game series with Ottawa, Kreider scored his first NHL goal – the game winner – in a 3-2 victory in Game 6.
With five one-goal games and two overtime games in the first round, coach John Tortorella increased Kreider’s play in the quarterfinal match with the Washington Capitals. The Rangers once again emerged victorious in a closely played, seven games series. Kreider played over 93 minutes, but was limited to a goal and an assist and was -4 for the series. His goal was another game winner (He became the first rookie to score back-to-back game winners in the postseason), in a 3-1 Game 1 triumph, but Kreider’s contribution on offense in the series was minimal. He had just nine shots on goal in a series that saw six games decided by one goal.
If the first two series were considered tightly played, everyone knew the conference final against the New Jersey Devils was going to be even tighter. The Rangers led the best-of-seven series 2-1, but the Devils won three straight games to capture the series. Adam Henrique got the series game winner just 1:03 into overtime in Game 6. Again, Tortorella increased Kreider’s playing time in hopes of finding more scoring. Kreider, who had turned 21 during the Washington series, scored goals in each of the first three games, including a pair of power play goals. However, he and much of the rest of the squad couldn’t solve Martin Brodeur for the rest of the series.
Kreider had a less than stellar 2012-2013 season with 12 goals in 48 games for the Connecticut Whale of the AHL and just two goals in 23 games for the Rangers, though much of the latter can be attributed to his assignment to the fourth line. The Rangers won another seven games series with Washington to open the playoffs, but were dominated by the Boston Bruins in the conference semis and were eliminated in five games. With his ice time limited, Kreider managed just a goal and an assist, though the goal was an overtime winner in Game 4 that kept the Rangers from being swept.
A mundane 2013-2014 season was cut short by a hand injury that required surgery and caused Kreider to miss the first 10 games of the playoffs. Fans were beginning to wonder if Kreider was the real deal. Upon his return from the injured list, he registred five goals and eight assists in 15 games as the Rangers returned to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 20 years. The Rangers knocked off division rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, and then topped the Montreal Canadiens in a conference final in which Kreider left his mark.
Kreider’s impact in the series was both good and bad, and may influence how referees handle him this season. Specifically, the BC product’s collision with Montreal goalie Carey Price which caused the netminder to miss the remainder of the series. (The Rangers and Canadiens meet on Saturday for the first since the series.) The Canadiens wanted Kreider suspended for the hit, but league officials did not agree.
There seems to be a carry over in confidence and maturity from last season’s playoffs for Kreider. Through seven games this season, Kreider has a pair of goals, four assists, and is a +5. He’s also amassed 23 penalties, which may or may not be connected in some way to his crash with Price. The most important thing is that Kreider has been in the mix around the net and not afraid to continue his speedy, physical style of play. The Rangers will most certanly benefit from it.
Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.