Many of us were against the New York Rangers immediately subjecting rookie Chris Kreider to the NHL Playoff atmosphere upon being signed to an entry-level deal out of college. No matter the skill level, that jump could be a shell shocker for any player, and this is something head coach John Tortorella said he discussed with his team prior to Kreider's arrival. While it took the 20-year-old from Boxford, Massachusetts three games to fully gain his confidence, he hasn't looked back since. In fact, in just six NHL games, Kreider has worked his way to the second line, he's recorded two game-winning goals, as well as an assist, to tie Brian Boyle for fourth on the team in scoring during the playoffs. And we thought it would be best to start him out in the AHL, huh?
It's not Kreider's rapidly building confidence that's been so surprising, though. It's the level at which he's excelled just six games in, already becoming a core player for this team who is receiving hefty ice time from coach Tortorella. He's already become the type of player that the fans are excited to see each time he steps onto the ice, because they just know something is going to happen. Heck, the MSG faithful even started up a "Krei-der" chant after he scored what would turn out to be the game-deciding tally in yesterday's Game 1 win over the Washington Capitals.
"It was a surreal experience; I got goose bumps, obviously," Kreider said. "I was really tired after the goal, but didn’t feel so tired when they started chanting."
No, Chris, what is surreal is that you carried a professional hockey franchise to a semifinal victory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs just six games into your career. That’s surreal.
Kreider's biggest weapon is obviously his speed, and from his first game to his most recent ones, he's gradually learned when to use that speed and when to use it well. He's been explosive in the neutral zone when the puck is coming his way or even when it is on his stick, he hunts down pucks in the offensive zone with ease and he clearly has the ability to blow past opponents to create scoring chances just as we saw on his goal on Saturday. And might I add that he scored that goal at the end of his shift. Yes, he left the Caps defense in the dust at the end of his shift.
Honest question here: Is there a faster player in the NHL right now than Chris Kreider? I'd say no, and if there is, I've yet to see him.
Chris' wheels aren't the only aspect of his game that's been impressive so far. His hockey smarts and awareness in general are world class for a rookie. Let's go back to Game 7 against the Senators, early in the second period when he made a diving play along the blue-line of the offensive zone to prevent Ottawa from clearing out. Ryan Callahan then chipped the puck forward, where Derek Stepan picked up and fed Marc Staal for the game's first goal. The fact that Kreider saw that play develop before it actually did was astounding, and the full-out sprawling effort he made to get the puck to Callahan was even more amazing.
Now, let's fast forward to the third period of yesterday's game, around the 8:30 mark, when Kreider again made a smart play along the boards in the offensive zone to strip Jason Chimera of the puck and then fight through two checks to flip it out to an open Brad Richards cutting to the net. Richards went on to score the goal that would basically put the game out of reach, all started by the work of Kreider on the forecheck. Meanwhile, on the bench, coach Tortorella stood licking his lips just thinking about what is to come in the future with this kid.
A big part of Chris' early success has been the chemistry he's developed with center Derek Stepan. But maybe I should refer to it as 'pre-existing' chemistry since these two do have a history with each other. Remember that 2010 USA World Junior team that went on to defeat Team Canada for the Gold Medal? Well Stepan was the captain of that squad while Kreider was a rookie in his first year in the tournament. I think it's safe to say that those two certainly have some familiarity with each other, and that's possibly contributed to their success together.
The greatest part about all of this is that Kreider will only continue to grow from here. If he's making headlines and getting MSG to chant his name now, imagine what he will be doing in a year or two years from now. The Rangers have a superstar in the making here, and he's already making a major impact in their bid for the 2012 Stanley Cup Championship.
Fun Fact: Chris Kreider is the first player in NHL history to score two game-winning goals in the same postseason in which he played his first NHL game.
* Click Here for a Chris Kreider/New York Rangers 'Believe' desktop wallpaper I created if you care to use it. It's pretty sexy, I must say.