Blueshirts' Talented -- And Highly Cultured -- Forward Speaks Exclusively To WFAN.com

By Sean Hartnett
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For Chris Kreider and the Rangers, the sting of falling just short of winning the Stanley Cup is a deep wound.

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The Rangers have been the NHL’s nearly men of late. Alongside the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blueshirts are the only other team to reach the conference finals in each of the past two seasons, but championship rings have eluded them.

“We were right there, we’ve been right there – I’m sick and tired of just being right there and not following through,” Kreider said in an exclusive interview with WFAN.com.

If there is a singular player who symbolizes the Rangers’ vast potential, it’s Kreider. His impressive combination of strength, speed and powerful wrist shot shows that he has the tools to become a dominant forward. On Friday, head coach Alain Vigneault outlined his high expectations for the 24-year-old winger.

“I look at Chris Kreider and I believe he can be an elite player in this league,” Vigneault said. “He’s got everything to become a dominant power forward in this league. He’s got almost two full years under his belt, except for a couple games in my first year. He’s been improving. He’s been taking strides. It’s his time to shine now. It’s his time to become one of the go-to guys on our team.”

Talent is one thing and Kreider certainly has it, but talent can only take an athlete so far. What could separate him from his peers is his attention to detail and willingness to use every resource available to him. Like most players, Kreider spent the offseason doing the typical things – such as working with skills coaches, conditioning experts, skating specialists, and boxing instructors.

What might surprise some is the young forward’s keen attention to mental preparation. He recently sought out a sports psychologist in the hope of gaining a cerebral edge on the ice.

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“I think that’s definitely something that I focused on in the offseason – painting the corners, detailed-oriented stuff, not leaving any stone unturned,” Kreider said. “I can honestly say that I try to take advantage of every possible resource and people from my experience that I’ve heard are the best at what they do. With preparation comes confidence. Hopefully, it pays off.”

Then again, none of this should surprise those who know Kreider well. He’s somewhat of a hockey renaissance man. The Boxford, Massachusetts native speaks five languages and is fluent in Russian and Spanish. He spends time away from the rink perfecting classical piano and engrossing himself in the works of Ernest Hemingway and Italo Calvino.

Kreider said he understands what the Rangers expect of him. In recent years, franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist, captain Ryan McDonagh, top line forwards Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, and alternate captains Derek Stepan, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have all been rewarded with long-term contracts.

The 6-foot-3 winger wants to follow suit by becoming a key member of the Rangers’ core. Kreider enters the upcoming season in the final year of a two-year bridge deal, worth $2.475 million in average-annual value. He is a pending restricted free agent next summer. For now, he says he is focused entirely on fulfilling expectations and playing his role in the Rangers’ quest to deliver a long-awaited Cup parade back to The Canyon of Heroes.

“I think everyone wants to be part of the core group – so they don’t get bumped, traded, moved, not re-signed,” Kreider said. “Guys go in wanting to play well, do their job, fill their role, and help their team win. I think what everyone did over the summer was to position themselves better individually to help us take that next step. Because we’re right there – we’re right on the cusp.”

As Vigneault said, now is the time for Kreider to shine and become a go-to player on a Rangers team that is desperate to finish the job.

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Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey