Chris Kreider is a unique hockey player as he holds the NHL record for scoring the most Stanley Cup playoff goals (five) before making his debut in a regular season contest. Expectations have always been high for him since being drafted 19th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. Finally, Kreider is playing to his potential.
At times, his play has been frustrating to watch as Kreider shown flashes of brilliance but never could find that consistent level to put him in the top echelon of NHL power forwards. This season, though, that hasn’t been the case as Kreider is playing with the type of confidence needed to achieve his true potential on the ice.
The Factors of Kreider’s Breakout Season
Kreider is showing signs of having a breakout season as he seems more dialed-in and focused than at any point in his professional career. The blueprint for the Rangers unexpected improved play has been a more balanced offensive attack from all four lines rather than relying on two or three players being the team’s primary scorers.
It’s still a welcoming sight to see Kreider using his outstanding skating speed to gain an advantage in the offensive zone and scoring on the goaltender’s short side with his blistering shot from the face-off circle. But, he has added some grit around the crease that has elevated his overall game and made him a force that opposing teams must neutralize if they’re going to get two points against the Rangers.
Kreider leads the team with 14 goals as one of the biggest factors in his transformation has been the ability to camp down low near the net to redirect pucks past the goaltender. Kreider’s willingness to take up space and use his soft hands has gained better scoring chances for linemates as well. Plus, Kreider has shown plenty of energy on each shift as he’s winning puck battles along the boards, finishing checks, and attacking the net with more confidence than ever before. All of these factors have attributed to a breakout season for Kreider.
A New Found Perspective is Kreider’s Catalyst
Some might argue that no Ranger has been more scrutinized than Kreider, who has never been allowed to grow into his own game like other young players. Expectations will always be high because Kreider is a big, physical forward that skates well and possesses a blistering wrist shot, but he has struggled to find that consistency to stand out in games.
So, what has changed that allowed Kreider to prosper this season? Well, he’s acknowledged gaining a new-found perspective after surviving a life-threatening illness last season.
Kreider missed nearly a third of the 2017-18 campaign due to a blood clot in his right arm. During a contest with the Washington Capitals last December, Kreider was having trouble breathing and his arm began to swell during the game. Team doctors diagnosed that a blood clot had formed above the elbow and arthroscopic surgery was performed to repair the damaged vein. A second medical procedure followed to remove a malformed rib that allowed better blood flow all throughout Kreider’s body.
His illness forced Kreider to get himself into better shape. The results have been eye-opening as he’s more active on the ice than ever before. His time away from the sport allowed Kreider to better define his role with the Rangers as he’s taking on more of a leadership position with a relatively, inexperienced roster. No question, this medical scare has been a catalyst for his improved play.
Some of the lessons learned by the rookies has been understanding the type of preparation needed to play each night in the NHL. The biggest improvement you see is in the area of puck management as the Rangers are quickly moving the puck out of the defensive zone. This opens the ice for streaking forwards to gain better scoring chances near the net. In the past, the Rangers have been guilty of holding the puck too long, which often stagnated their offense.
No question, the Rangers are pleased with the output gained from their talented forward as Kreider is on pace for his first 30-goal season. Whatever the reason, the team has opened some eyes and played better than original expectations.
Kreider has played a big role in the organization’s transformation by evolving his own game as well.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy