By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Trading Chris Kreider before the Feb. 29 deadline would be like walking out midway through an action movie. Even though there’s usually a lull in the middle act, there’s almost always a solid payoff for those who see it through to the end.

READ MORE: NYPD Lieutenant Shot In Ankle Apprehending Suspect In The Bronx

Despite a bumpy fourth season, the 24-year-old winger is a growing quantity. At present, Kreider is a 40-point forward blessed with physicality and breakaway speed — and there’s still plenty of time for the 6-foot-3, 226-pounder to make full use of his physical gifts. If he does, he is going to become a franchise player.

With the trade deadline less than a week away, there’s been much chatter about teams lining up to tempt the Rangers into dealing away the former 19th overall draft pick. You wouldn’t be doing your job as a general manager if you didn’t at least kick the tires to get an idea of what it would take to pry Kreider away from the Blueshirts.

A number of GMs probably see this as an ideal time to gauge the Rangers’ resolve. Kreider has had an underwhelming season for a player expected to take the next leap in his development. He has taken a sideways step, failing at this point to make the breakthrough the hockey world is expecting.

But he hasn’t been a total flop. Kreider’s 28 points, including 17 assists, through 56 games put him on pace to finish the regular season with 40 — and his 0.50 points per game is a hair below his career average of 0.51.

One thing to consider is the Rangers’ delicate cap situation. Kreider is currently earning $2.6 million ($2.475 million AAV) in the second year of a bridge deal that takes him to restricted free agency in the summer. He’s going to be in line for a hefty raise. J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Dylan McIlrath will also be summer RFAs. Star defenseman Keith Yandle is in the final year of a five-year deal paying him $5.25 million AAV. Viktor Stalberg has positioned himself for a raise above the $1.1 million he’s making by excelling in a third-line role. Dominic Moore, backup goalie Antti Raanta and the likely-retiring Dan Boyle will be summer UFAs.

The Rangers have invested a lot of time and patience in Kreider’s development and deserve to reap the benefits of his prime years. There have been a number of high-potential players who’ve taken the slow path to eventual stardom.

READ MORE: New York City Rolls Out $100 Incentive For Getting Vaccinated As CDC Report Warns Delta Variant As Contagious As Chicken Pox

It took former second overall selection James van Riemsdyk three seasons before he truly shined. The Philadelphia Flyers made a massive blunder by trading the then-23-year-old forward to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a straight-up deal for defenseman Luke Schenn. JVR has been a smash hit in Toronto, recording 178 points in 250 games.

Van Riemsdyk is a good comparable for Kreider, as each play a power-speed game. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kreider take a similar path to JVR and become a 60-point player in the near future. It’s easy to forget Kreider’s playoff value, too. He recorded 13 points in 15 playoff games two seasons ago, as the Rangers captured their first Eastern Conference championship since 1994.

One big believer in Kreider is Yandle, who sees the big-bodied forward bringing the right work ethic to the table.

“You go through tough stretches,” Yandle said of Kreider in December. “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. He works hard every day, he really pushes the group. If he stays with it, he’ll be fine.”

Kreider’s comments during the preseason were foretelling about his uncertain future. He knew this was an important season and wanted to solidify his place in the Rangers’ long-term plans, especially after head coach Alain Vigneault declared it was time for him “to become one of the go-to guys on our team.”

“I think everyone wants to be part of the core group – so they don’t get bumped, traded, moved, not re-signed,” Kreider told WFAN.con. “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.”

There will certainly be teams lining up for Kreider if the Rangers show any inclination toward trading him, but given his star potential and desperation to reach an elite level the Rangers are best off continuing to keep the faith.

MORE NEWS: CBS2 Weather Headlines: Picture-Perfect Saturday! Sunny, Upper 70s, Low Humidity

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey