This is not how the Rangers have successfully developed prospects in recent years
The Rangers’ recent success has made Chris Kreider a forgotten man, but the handling of Kreider has been the most disappointing aspect of the 2013 season.
You can’t blame the 21-year-old for hitting a bump in the road, but the organization’s treatment of its prized winger has been a mess since the season-opener. Kreider got off to a miserable start with the Connecticut Whale Hartford Wolf Pack, where Kreider was asked to begin learning the Rangers’ system at the sacrifice of his offense. He posted just five goals and seven assists in 34 games and was struggling on both ends of the ice.
But Kreider was still handed a job out of training camp because the Rangers were very short on forwards and because, in case you forgot, he scored five goals right out of college for the Blueshirts in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This raised so many eyebrows that Chad Kolarik was rumored to have requested a trade due to this decision.
Keeping Kreider with the big club was understandable, but the constant cycle of demotion/recall throughout the season has not been. It was very clear after just a few games that Kreider wasn’t ready for New York this spring. He wasn’t a confident guy after a difficult first half in the AHL and he was playing through painful bone spurs in his ankle. So, when the Rangers finally demoted Kreider on February 15th, that should have been the end of it. He should have spent the duration of the season getting big minutes with the Whale and learning what it takes to be successful at the next level before securing a full-time spot on Broadway in the fall. Instead, Kreider was shuttled back and forth to Connecticut seemingly every few days.
So whose fault was this mess?
Coach John Tortorella made it very clear that he didn’t trust the rookie and didn’t want Kreider up with the big club. That’s the coach’s prerogative and all of the statistical and on-ice evidence points to Tortorella being right. The Florida Panthers can afford to endure the mistakes of raw players at the NHL level because they have nothing to lose, but a team that was expected to compete for the Stanley Cup does not have that luxury. Don’t forget, Tortorella has shown a ton of trust in other young players in recent years (J.T. Miller, Carl Hagelin, Michael Del Zotto, etc.), but only once they proved that were ready for big minutes. Kreider never did.
The majority of the blame lies with the front office.
Part of the problem was due to the early-season lack of depth. Up until the trade deadline, the Rangers were struggling mightily to score – an issue that everyone thought Kreider could help with – and just didn’t have other viable options. To its credit, Glen Sather and company did attempt to rectify the team’s forward depth issue several times until they seemingly solved the problem for good at the deadline.
Despite that valid excuse, it’s a major mistake to mishandle a prospect as badly as the Rangers have. It would have served Kreider’s development far better this season if he was the a go-to guy with the Whale rather than playing fewer than 10 minutes a night with the Blueshirts. And don’t underestimate how badly Kreider’s confidence has been damaged; everything we know suggests that Kreider has the mental makeup to handle all of this, but many other prospects have been ruined this way.
For all the brilliance of Sather at retooling this team on the fly, the front office’s continued mistreating Kreider has been a black mark on the season. Let’s hope Kreider is able to put this all behind him and get back on the track to stardom next season.