What a difference a year makes.
Chris Kreider burst onto the Broadway stage in the 2012 playoffs. After winning a National Championship with Boston College, the Rangers’ first round pick in 2009 joined the team’s postseason roster, and proceeded to register five goals in 18 playoff games.
The impressive run created high expectations for Kreider entering the 2012-13 season. During the summer, head coach John Tortorella was excited about the opportunity to work with the 21-year-old throughout the season.
“I’ll do a lot more coaching with him than I could do during the playoffs,” the Rangers bench boss said at the time. “He’s got to learn to be a pro and not miss any steps along the way.
As a result of the work stoppage, Kreider started the season with the AHL’s Connecticut Whale. Offensively, the rookie’s stint in the minors was hardly spectacular. In 33 games, Kreider recorded five goals and seven assists — and just one goal and one assist in his last 19 contests.
“Kreider’s play in the AHL in the first part of the season — or real lack of it — wasn’t indicative of the effort he was putting out on the ice,” says Mitch Beck, who is the editor of Howlings.net, a site that covers both the Whale and the Rangers’ ECHL affiliate, the Greenville Road Warriors.
“He had a very impressive playoff run in terms of scoring, but now the expectations are higher and the pressure to excel is higher,” Beck says.
Kreider explained that he was focusing on the defensive aspects of his game in Connecticut. “You’re told at the college level that having the most points in the AHL isn’t going to get you called up over the guy who is defensively reliable and is not going to hurt the team.”
Although the defensive part of his game is still a work in progress — as is the case for most 21-year-old forwards with limited NHL experience — the Blueshirts need Kreider’s offensive production in order to reach the next level this season.
Throughout the summer, most pundits expected the Boxford, Mass. native to start the season on one of the Rangers’ top two forward lines, playing alongside the likes of Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik.
However, Kreider’s lack of offensive production in the AHL caused Tortorella to relegate him to the third line for the Blueshirts’ season opener in Boston. Skating on a line with Brian Boyle and Taylor Pyatt, Kreider was on the ice for 10:32 and 10:13 in the Rangers’ two games last weekend.
In order for Kreider to get out of his funk, he needs to get the ice time and play in situations that allow him to succeed. However, with each game holding more importance in a shortened season this year — as has been well documented — it would be risky to rely on a struggling rookie for providing offense consistently.
“What he needs to do is learn the pro game and get some experience,” Beck explains. “Once he does that, Rangers fans will have a prize prospect who will dazzle them for a long time.”
Kreider has all of the tools to be a quality player. The combination of his size (6-3, 226 pounds) and speed are already NHL-caliber, and they allowed him to be successful during the playoff run.
However, Kreider needs time that both he and the Rangers don’t have this year.