To the liking of New York Rangers fans, the kids have been shining as of late. Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere seem to be hitting their stride late in the season and look to carry this momentum over into next year. Vitaly Kravtsov has impressed on both ends of the ice, and the likes of Lauri Pajuniemi and Will Cuylle are still yet to arrive. But what does the rise of New York’s young stars mean for Broadway’s No. 20?
Currently, on his first year of a brand new seven-year, $6.5 million contract with a no-movement clause, Kreider will be a Ranger for at least the near future. With that being said, with a hefty contract comes hefty expectations. And like any successful rebuilding team, the best-case scenario is that the youth eventually outplays the vets.
Season Thus Far
Kreider has posted 30 points in 50 games this season. He has scored 20 goals, with 11 of those coming on the powerplay. Not only has Kreider contributed scoring-wise, he is one of few Rangers with size and a willingness to push back against opposing teams’ physicality.
As of May 5, Rangers head coach David Quinn confirmed that Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Artemi Panarin will all sit out for the remainder of the season. With only a few games left, there is no need to rush anyone back to play for a team not in playoff contention. However, in light of recent events, I think most Ranger fans would agree that having Lingren’s or Trouba’s size in the lineup in tonight’s tilt against Washington would be ideal. But while Kreider has yet to be ruled out for the season, it seems likely that he will not dress tonight against the Caps.
No one knows for sure exactly how long Kreider will remain a Ranger, but my guess would be that he doesn’t finish his contract in New York. And again, keeping that no-move-clause in mind, it won’t be as easy as simply trading him away for the best offer. From what we can tell, Kreider loves playing for the Rangers, and his teammates love playing with him.
To go along with that, he is currently the longest-tenured Ranger in the Organization. The fans adore him, and some even believe he should be the next captain of the team. But like we all know, there is more to the sport than emotional attachment. If Kreider is constantly getting outplayed by the likes of Alexis Lafreniere, who has taken over Kreids’ role on the first line, then it is safe to assume Lafreniere and Mika Zibanejad will be the new center and left-wing partnership for the foreseeable future.
With the season that Pavel Buchnevich has had, I don’t think there is any justification for pulling him off Zibenajad’s right flank to start next year. And as for the second line, Panarin isn’t going anywhere (thank the Lord), and Kakko’s new found chemistry alongside both Strome and Panarin should see the young Fin glued to that spot for the near future as well.
And once we step back and assess the situation, we see that Kreider is left to be on the third line. And while it’s very possible he would be the best “third liner” in the league, $6.5 million in the bottom-six, with a stagnant cap, is not a recipe for success, at least in the long run. And this is without even mentioning Vitaly Kravtsov, who at this rate of development, should see himself replacing Buch in the top-six as soon as late next season.
The Kreider situation is tricky, as he is still a talented player with plenty of support from diehard Rangers fans. In a perfect world, he retires as a Ranger with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger. But the current state of the team, along with a cap that won’t be going up any time soon, could make for some tough decisions regarding No. 20 in blue.
Junior writer covering the New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers.