Though he was last year’s playoff hero, Chris Kreider got off to a tough start with the CT Whale during the NHL lockout, and his confidence was at an all-time low when he joined the Rangers for the start of the NHL season. Kreider had been asked to round out his game in the AHL and the learning process was more difficult than he may have expected. As a result, his offensive numbers took a nosedive.
Still, the Rangers saw just how valuable Kreider could be last spring and handed him a job to start the season despite his struggles. One highlight reel goal against Martin Brodeur notwithstanding, Kreider failed to generate much of anything offensively in third line duty, so the Blueshirts made the difficult decision to return Kreider to the Whale two weeks ago while keeping 20-year-old JT Miller with the big club.
Just like that, the switch seemed to flip for Kreider. He’s scored 6 goals and an assist in eight games since being demoted, dwarfing the numbers he put up in his first stint with the Whale this season (5 goals and 7 assists in 34 games). Kreider seems to have rediscovered his offensive touch, but it’s a safe bet that he hasn’t learned how to play “the right way” at both ends of the rink in the two weeks since he left New York.
Still, Kreider has proven the ability to score at the NHL level and given the Rangers’ desperation for offense, many are clamoring for a recall. This is a classic case of what’s better for the long-term growth of the player versus what the team needs now. There’s little doubt that Kreider would be best served by playing out the duration of the season in Connecticut, but the Rangers are in win now mode and have few other options.
The Blueshirts have flirted with bringing Mats Zuccarello back, but may be hesitant to guarantee Zuccarello enough NHL playing time to lure him back overseas. It’s possible that Jesper Fast and/or Oscar Lindberg could come over after they exit the Swedish Elite League playoffs, but there’s no firm timetable on that and it’s impossible to know whether either could make the jump straight to the NHL. There are some intriguing names floating around the trade market, but teams don’t seem too eager to deal just yet given how tight the standings are and prices are sky high (not to mention New York’s own salary cap troubles).
This decision would be made much easier if some of New York’s top offensive threats began producing, but that season-long issue doesn’t seem any closer to resolving itself. So the Rangers will likely bring Kreider back, perhaps just on a trial basis. That might not make sense for a team not facing the same expectations as the Rangers, but such is the burden of being labeled a “contender.”