NEW YORK – The Rangers seem to have found the forward they have been looking for over the past decade.
We’ve heard about promises and potential but came out with draft busts, such as Hugh Jessiman, and even tragedy in the case of Alexi Cherepanov.
And it seemed like the Rangers needed to keep going back to the old drawing board when it came to finding the No. 1 forward from their own system. Sure, Ryan Callahan turned out to be very valuable, but his style of play suits him further down in the lineup where his two way skills come in handy.
But now, it looks like the Rangers finally stuck pay-dirt. In just his sixth NHL game, Chris Kreider is showing the star power the Blueshirts so desperately want on their Top 6.
“We showed him our concept,” said coach John Tortorella. “We went over our concept with him, and then we just wanted him to play. There are a number of things that we’ll end up working with him on but this isn’t the time of year to do that. We just want his instincts and speed, and then just go out there and play. As I said the other night, forget about what he’s doing on the ice, the mental part of the game as far as him trying to make a difference every shift it’s really good stuff for a young kid.”
No matter what happens this post-season – if it ends next week or even in a month and a half – already the Rangers have something to look forward to in Kreider. He has become a force on the back end of the first round and in the Rangers 3-1 win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals against the Washington Capitals.
Kreider is doing it with speed, aggressive forechecking and smarts on the ice. And all three abilities today allowed the 20 year-old to score the winning goal and assist on Brad Richards insurance tally in the third.
“I was kind of gassed, at the end of the shift, and usually I take that to the net, but I pulled up,” Kreider said in describing his goal, a breakaway home run shot which allowed him to blow past Washington defenseman Roman Hamrlik. “I don’t usually take slap shots, so that was a little unorthodox for me. I saw an opening so I just tried to hit it.”
Then 90 seconds later, he backhanded a pass to Brad Richards, who beat Braden Holtby by the left post.
“He’s got a good attitude, he’s a good person and I think our group is an amazing group,” Richards said to reporters. “We have that type of mentality and closeness where we don’t mind getting help, and getting a young kid that we know is going to be here for a long time. That’s why it’s such a good locker room.”
It’s conceivable – however a long shot – Kreider could win the Conn Smyth Trophy this year before winning the Calder next season. That’s something only Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden pulled off in 1971 and 1972.
But maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
More likely, though, the Rangers have their top left wing for the next 10 seasons. With his size, 6’3”, 230 lbs, he could gather goals like John LeClair just by standing in front of the net and putting in the rebound. But with his speed and slap-shot, he could also be like Brendan Shanahan in the future Hall of Famer’s prime.
Either way, this kid could be in good company.
Right now, it’s time to enjoy what the Rangers have here and since he is so new, Washington is having trouble figuring him out. Tortorella has him with Callahan and Derek Stepan to form a very young American No. 2 line.
So far, so good, but the Rangers have a long way to go.
If this is a Cup year, Kreider will be playing a big part over the next month to get the Rangers to the promise land.
Actually, he already is.