‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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In April of 2012, Chris Kreider captured the attention of the entire hockey world when his first two career goals were consecutive game-winning goals in the playoffs.
Expectations went through the roof when Kreider rifled a booming slap shot past Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby in Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals.
NBC commentator Pierre McGuire immediately proclaimed Kreider as “all-world” seconds after Kreider sent Madison Square Garden into a rapturous frenzy. Hockey analysts searched for the ideal adjectives to describe Kreider’s rare combination of natural strength and lightning speed. He was an instant idol in the eyes of Rangers fans, who rushed to buy Kreider jerseys and T-shirts.
It was all too much for a humble, quiet-natured kid who was yet to celebrate his 21st birthday. Now as a 22-year-old, that expectation level has fallen to a realistic level.
Kreider was yo-yoed between the AHL and the NHL for most of his life under previous head coach John Tortorella. He failed to make new head coach Alain Vigneault’s opening-night roster. Like most skilled players his age, his talent is apparent — but he’s far from the finished product.
Kreider endured difficult circumstances under Tortorella, who attempted to force the offensively-gifted winger into his defense-first concept. Now, Kreider might finally get the chance he’s always desired.
The Rangers are currently decimated by injures to inspirational captain Ryan Callahan and concussed scoring ace Rick Nash. Callahan will miss 3-to-4 weeks due to a broken thumb and there isn’t a timetable for Nash’s return. The official comment from the Rangers on Nash’s status at Monday’s practice was “nothing new.”
KREIDER WILL FINALLY GET CHANCE TO PROVE HIMSELF IN TOP-SIX ROLE
Kreider skated on the Rangers’ top line with Brad Richards and Derek Stepan at Monday’s practice in Tarrytown. Vigneault has indicted that Kreider will be given a top-six forward role.
“We just felt that we needed to see if Kreids could help us out in our top-six spot,” Vigneault said.
Kreider is excited to be playing alongside two talented playmakers in Richards and Stepan, though it’s too early to tell whether Vigneault will employ a Richards-Stepan-Kreider first line when the Rangers travel to Philly on Saturday.
Kreider has clung closely to Richards for advice and soaked up the knowledge that the 33-year-old veteran has passed along.
“I think it doesn’t matter who he plays with, he’s gonna make you better,” Stepan said. “That person is going to learn from him. He just knows so much.”
Kreider appreciated the opportunity to work out with Richards toward the end of the summer.
“I was lucky enough to actually lift a lit bit at the end of the summer with him and kinda pick his brain a little bit,” Kreider said. “Just being around him, just being around veteran leadership like that — it definitely helps your game and brings you along.”
KREIDER ISN’T LOOKING BACK AT THE PAST
The 22-year-old isn’t harping on his previous disappointments. This is an entirely fresh chance under a new coach in Vigneault, whose uptempo system could make best use of Kreider’s array of offensive abilities.
“Having a short-term memory is a big, important part of this profession,” Kreider said.
Kreider believes a big difference this time around is that his body is fresh and healthy.
“I’m healthy now,” Kreider said.
MCDONAGH HOPES KREIDER CAN ‘PROVIDE A SPARK’
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh has high hopes for Kreider. McDonagh is impressed by Kreider’s work ethic and maturity.
“He’s definitely a guy that knows how to compete and (is) strong enough mentally, mature enough to understand what it takes,” McDonough said. “We’re hoping he can bring us a spark here with his skating ability, shot and overall compete-level.”
McDonagh stated that the Rangers have plenty of belief in Kreider. He thinks Kreider has what it takes to make it in the NHL after suffering
“Confidence is key with him,” McDonagh said. “He’s got the ability. It’s just about going out there and proving to himself and his teammates that he can chip in. We’ve got a lot of trust in him as a player on this team. He’s just going to find it within himself — and I believe he can.”
BOYLE THINKS KREIDER CAN FLOURISH
Forward Brian Boyle thinks Kreider has what it takes to “put it all together.”
Boyle watched Kreider with a close eye during Monday’s practice. He observed that Kreider stayed long after everyone else left the ice to work on extra drills at the end of Monday’s practice.
“When it comes to his work ethic and physicality, and how hard he pushes himself, that’s never a question,” Boyle said. “He’s gonna get there and flourish because of all those things. When he goes and plays, I think he’s going to do well for us.”
DON’T BUY INTO KREIDER TRADE RUMORS
Kreider has recently been the subject of trade rumors, per the Ottawa Sun. NHL general managers talk often with one another, but it would take a significantly large trade offer to pry Kreider from the Rangers.
As a whole, the Rangers believe in Kreider, and he’s finally in a situation where he can prove himself.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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