By Sean Hartnett
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Chris Kreider is proving to be invaluable to the Rangers.READ MORE: Annual Juneteenth Festival In Bedford-Stuyvesant Takes On New Meaning In 2021
The 25-year-old winger has always been a big part of the Blueshirts’ blueprint for success, but through just a quarter of his fifth NHL season it’s clearly obvious that he has taken his game to another level — and looks every bit a franchise cornerstone.
Ever since he emerged during the 2012 playoffs, Kreider’s high-end potential has been obvious to onlookers. His powerful 6-foot-3 frame, rapid acceleration and heavy shot have often teased experts into predicting he would one day develop into an elite power forward.
It has happened.
It’s one thing to possess all of those traits and it’s another to apply them on a nightly basis. Consistency is the biggest difference in Kreider’s game this season. He is driving to net with authority, using his speed to force takeaways, shooting accurately and using brute strength to gain body position in the danger areas. Through 20 games, he has recorded 16 points and his 0.80 points per game is the highest of his career.
“When he’s at his best, he’s a nightmare for defensemen the way he skates, on the forecheck and causes turnovers,” alternate captain Marc Staal said of Kreider earlier this season. “He just opens room for his linemates and he’s been doing that on a different level. He’s been impressive to watch.”
On Saturday night, Kreider scored two goals in a 4:46 span of the third period of an eventual 4-2 victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. On the first goal, he outmuscled 210-pound defenseman Ron Hainsey to win the puck behind the net and then raced to jam home a rebound. His second goal was proof of just how unstoppable his quick wrister can be. The puck seemed to leap off his stick, clanging off the post and past goaltender Michael Leighton.READ MORE: NYPD: 24-Year-Old Driver Struck, Seriously Hurt Woman During Brooklyn Carjacking
“I don’t know if you watched him release that puck. That’s a tough save for anybody. So we’ve got to get him to keep shooting,” alternate captain Derek Stepan said of Kreider’s second goal. “He’s a guy that’s a big part of our team and when Chris is moving his feet and shooting pucks he’s really difficult to defend.”
Last spring, Kreider’s name cropped up in trade rumors. General managers shouldn’t be judged solely by the success rate of their completed deals. The trades they don’t make can often be as crucial to the long-term prosperity of a franchise as any headline-grabbing deadline day move. Keeping the faith in Kreider will go down as one of Jeff Gorton’s wisest moves.
The four-year, $18.5 million extension Kreider signed this past summer will look like a bargain as he continues to get better and better. Devoting $4.625 million per annum to a genuine power forward whose lightning speed backs off defenses and causes opponents to cough up the puck is an excellent investment of cap space.
By locking up Kreider, franchise defenseman/captain Ryan McDonagh ($4.7 million AAV) and all-action winger Mats Zuccarello ($4.5 million AAV) to cap-friendly extensions, the Rangers should remain competitive for years to come. McDonagh and Zuccarello are signed through the 2018-19 season, while Kreider’s deal expires in the summer of 2020.
On top of all of that, Kreider has a big-time playoff pedigree for such a relatively young player. Only franchise legend Mark Messier has scored more postseason game-winning goals (seven) in a Rangers uniform than Kreider (six). His eight postseason power play goals are tied with Messier and Mike Gartner for fourth in team history. He’s only a single playoff PPG away from tying the great Rod Gilbert.
Consider the developmental phase of Kreider’s career over. The raw talents of his youth have solidified into rock-solid consistency.
You can hang your hat on him being a lead dog in the Blueshirts’ continuing chase for glory.MORE NEWS: Caught On Camera: Innocent Children Caught In Middle Of Brazen Shooting In The Bronx
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey