By Sean Hartnett
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It’s fair to place high expectations on the shoulders of Rangers winger Chris Kreider. Standing 6-foot-3 and sporting a chiseled physique, he has a power forward’s body and possesses the lightning speed of a greyhound.READ MORE: NYPD Lieutenant Shot In Ankle Apprehending Suspect In The Bronx
At 24, Kreider should be entering the phase of his career where he makes the jump from promising young forward to lead dog.
For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened yet.
“I look at Chris Kreider and I believe he can be an elite player in this league,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said during the preseason. “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.”
After spending the offseason seeking out a variety of experts, ranging from specific skills coaches to conditioning experts to a sports psychologist, Kreider has only managed four goals and seven assists through 27 games. He is on pace to finish the regular season with 12 goals and 33 points, numbers that would be lower than his first two seasons.
The Boxford, Massachusetts native has collected just one point in nine games — a bad-angle goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.
But as the saying goes, you can’t hold down great talent for long. Teammate Keith Yandle believes that Kreider is doing his best to push through a lean spell and is close to getting back on track.READ MORE: Justice Department Says Russians Hacked Federal Prosecutors
“If you look at the way he’s played the last few games, I think he’s really got his legs under him,” Yandle told WFAN.com following Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. “It’s tough for anyone. You go through tough stretches. It’s a long season, it’s a long grind, but I think the biggest thing is just having confidence in yourself and your teammates and him being able to battle through adversity. He’s doing that and he’s helping us try to get wins every night.
“He brings a lot of different aspects to our team,” Yandle added. “He works hard every day, he really pushes the group. If he stays with it, he’ll be fine.”
It’s easy to forget how much Kreider has accomplished in his young career. He is one of four NHL players to record at least 40 goals, 90 points and a rating of plus-40 or better since the start of the 2012-13 season.
Kreider is shooting just 7.4 percent this season, a significant drop-off from his career shooting percentage of 11.3. Eventually, his luck should turn in the right direction. It’s clear that when he’s on his game, Kreider is a difference-maker for the Blueshirts. The Rangers have lost just three of the last 37 games in which he has registered a point (34-1-2).
With Thursday’s defeat, the Rangers have just one win in their last six (1-4-1), a stretch in which they have averaged just 1.6 goals per game. Through 27 games, the Rangers rank 27th in the league with 27.8 shots per game.
Rookie forward Oscar Lindberg scored the lone goal against the Avs, joining Mats Zuccarello as the only two Blueshirts to reach 10 goals this season. The Rangers are already without playmaking center Derek Stepan, who is set to miss at least four weeks after suffering two broken ribs. Stepan, 25, was a major contributor last season, averaging 0.81 points per game.
It’s going to take a collective effort for the Rangers break out of their offensive malaise, so they need Kreider to step up and turn into the player they expect him to be.MORE NEWS: Police: Woman, 61, Killed In West Islip House Fire
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey