BOSTON — Boxford’s Chris Kreider scored five goals and added two assists in 18 playoff games for the New York Rangers last spring after winning the NCAA national title with Boston College.
It appeared entering this year that the left winger had the potential to make an immediate major impact offensively for the Rangers in his first NHL regular season.
But the former Phillips Academy star’s season didn’t start well. He was in pain during his first three games because of a bone chip in his ankle suffered during an AHL game in early January before the lockout ended.
He received just 28:06 minutes of ice time combined in his first three games, had a disappointing minus-2 rating and Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters he was considering sending Kreider back to the Connecticut Whale of the AHL.
“No pressure,” Kreider told The Eagle-Tribube about what was going through his mind early in the season. “I was just focusing on my game and just trying to improve every day.”
Kreider, who trains at Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning in North Andover, and the New York Rangers were in town to play the Boston Bruins last night.
After sitting out five straight games with his ankle injury, Kreider recently returned to the Rangers’ lineup and he is keeping the same mindset he had during his first three games. There are no guarantees he will stay on New York’s roster for the remainder of the year. A couple of bad games — or even just one — and he could be sent to Connecticut. But he is trying to remain calm, learn from his teammates and improve his skills as a winger.
So far, so good.
Entering last night’s game, Kreider had played in three contests since returning last Tuesday. In those three games, he had one goal, an assist and a plus-3 rating.
“There’s a lot of pressure on everybody but he’s doing fine and he’s handling it good,” Rangers center Brian Boyle said.
All the New York forwards should being feeling some pressure. Despite adding some offensive punch in the offseason, including trading for Rick Nash, the Rangers entered last night ranked 17th in the NHL in goals per game (2.64).
But New York certainly has picked up some steam on offense lately, scoring nine goals combined in its previous two games entering last night.
If Kreider and the rest of the talented New York forwards get going like they are capable, then the rest of the NHL better watch out. This team, which was the top seed in the Eastern Conference in last year’s playoffs, will compete for a Stanley Cup again.
Kreider, an extremely quick skater and top-notch athlete, scored his first-ever regular season goal of his NHL career last Tuesday against arguably the greatest goalie of all-time, New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.
Kreider, caught a pass from Brad Richards while streaking in toward the net and fired the puck past Brodeur’s left side top-shelf.
“He took a good shot,” Boyle said. “I believe it. I’ve seen him do it a lot in practice. If he does that, he’ll get a lot of those.”
It wasn’t the first time Kreider beat Brodeur. The 21-year-old netted three goals against the brilliant 40-year-old netminder during the Eastern Conference Finals last May. That means, of the six goals he has scored at the NHL level, four have been against Brodeur.
“If you grow up playing hockey or watching hockey, it’s hard to miss (Brodeur’s greatness),” Kreider said. “But (the goal last Tuesday) obviously didn’t mean much because we ended up losing the game.”
Kreider is feeling much healthier than he did the last time he was in Boston for the season opener Jan. 19.
“It needed to heal,” he said of the ankle injury. “It’s healed now or better at least. It’s just nice not to worry about it as much.”
Surprisingly, Kreider isn’t the youngest player on the Rangers. That distinction goes to 19-year-old center J.T. Miller who has been playing on the same line with Kreider and captain Ryan Callahan. Miller entered yesterday with two goals in three games since his promotion to New York.
“I played some with (Miller) in Hartford and so I kind of know his game and what he tries to do, which makes it a little easier,” Kreider said. “And then (Callahan), he’s such a hard worker, you just kind of try to follow in his footsteps.”
Kreider has terrific offensive skill and continues to work on improving himself defensively as well. Despite impressing with seven points last postseason, he did have a minus-4 rating. Tortorella has said Kreider certainly was impressive at times last spring but also didn’t play well at other times.
“Team D is something this team takes a lot of pride in, something that’s definitely improved,” Kreider said. “Obviously, we have an amazing back line. We play against them every day in practice. I think that’s the only word that does them justice. They are amazing — an extremely strong, quick, tenacious group — and we have the best goalie in the league.”
Tortorella is a tough and intense coach, and he certainly hasn’t held back when talking about Kreider’s play.
“I’ve already learned a lot from him and hopefully will continue to learn a lot,” Kreider said. “I’ve only been here 11 games now, and I’ve only really dressed for six or seven. Hopefully, I can continue to get to know him and learn from him.”