Left-winger Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers has shown steady improvement since making a splash in the 2012 postseason, where he tallied five goals and two assists in the first NHL action of his career. After struggling to find a consistent role in the following regular season under former head coach John Tortorella, Kreider began to discover his game at the NHL level under the guidance of Alain Vigneault, scoring 17 goals and 20 assists in 2013-14.
He continued his gradual progress with a career-high 46 points (21 goals, 25 assists) last season, and another seven goals and two assists in 19 playoff games. Heading into the 2015-16 season, Vigneault and the Rangers are looking for big things from the 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound winger.
Praise and a Challenge
As New York’s training camp opened up, Vigneault had some comments specifically about Kreider.
I believe he can become an elite player in the league. He’s got everything to become a dominant power forward. It’s his time to shine now, be a go-to guy on this team.
The Rangers’ head coach chose his words carefully, and in so doing, simultaneously offered praise and challenged the club’s gifted forward. With his unique combination of size, immense strength and blazing speed, Kreider has the physical tools that few other NHL players possess. These attributes are what compelled the Rangers to select him in the first round (19th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
The Boston College alum has shown plenty of signs of his abilities at the NHL level, and has also slowly but surely improved his hockey sense to become a more reliable player in more game situations.
When, though, one sees these incredible types of plays from Kreider, it becomes natural to wonder why he is not yet a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Like many gifted young stars finding their place in the league, consistency is the biggest key for Kreider. There are some games, some periods, and some shifts where Kreider looks completely unstoppable, but there are others where he seems to be invisible. While he has gradually improved, there is still another level he can reach. Vigneault knows that, and by putting the spotlight on what Kreider is capable of, he challenged him to become a go-to player for the Rangers.
The Importance of Kreider’s Role
With the loss of Martin St. Louis to retirement, the importance of Kreider’s role on the Rangers becomes even greater. Even though St. Louis struggled toward the end of the year and throughout the playoffs, he still put up 52 points in the regular season. Kreider is one of the players New York will be counting on to help replace that production.
For much of last season, Kreider played on a line with center Derek Stepan, with St. Louis on the opposite wing. There is a good chance that he will continue to be on the Rangers’ No. 1B line (with Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Rick Nash comprising the other top line), perhaps with J.T. Miller or Kevin Hayes on right wing in place of St. Louis. Either way, Kreider would be the line’s second-most experienced player behind the 25-year-old Stepan, putting him in a role of increased leadership and responsibility. The Rangers will need him to consistently drive offensive production from that line.
There is reason for the Rangers to be optimistic. Kreider is still only 24-years old, so his best years are still ahead of him, and could very well feature some 30-goal seasons. Vigneault and the Rangers are hoping that the first of those seasons comes in 2015-16.