Frank Franklin II, AP Photo
Chris Kreider is one of five RFAs for the Rangers this year, but he is one of the two most important RFAs that the Rangers need to get signed. It was very apparent in the playoffs that the Rangers missed Kreider’s rare combination of size, speed, and hands until his return in the Pittsburgh series. Kreider is coming off his entry-level deal that paid him $900,000 in base salary. However, this season was just his first full year at the NHL level.
Kreider’s success isn’t something new, he excelled during his first year in the 2011-2012 playoff run. His defensive shortcomings were overshadowed by his production, but they could not be overshadowed throughout the lockout shortened 2013 season. His style of play (note: defensive issues) were not a fit for John Tortorella, and he was even cut by Alain Vigneault to start the 2013-2014 season. However, he found his place and his game and finished the season with a 17-20-37 line in 66 games. He was nearly a point-per-game in this year’s playoff run, putting up 5-8-13 in 15 games.
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Winner. Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images
Stay of execution or the start of something special? The Rangers held on to get their first win of the Cup finals Wednesday night and give the fan base a glimmer of hope. Let’s have a little muse about how things went down.
Earlier this week we considered a few reasons to be cheerful despite the Rangers being 3 down in the series. One of those reasons was Chris Kreider who had a huge part to play in the game winning goal. Kreider’s mere presence causes problems, even against the best defenses in the league.
If Kreider can continue to go to the net, continue to play physically and get a little less reckless in his own zone, the sky’s the limit. Yes, Kreider needs to develop more facets to his game but he’s already scaring teams.
Martin St Louis. He leads the team in goals; he has three game winning tallies amongst his eight markers. If someone told me the Rangers would give up two first round picks and a captain that was pricing himself out of town for a trip to the Finals, I’d have definitely taken that deal. Well, that’s what we got. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and while St Louis hasn’t been brilliant every game he’s certainly justified Sather’s decision to bring him to New York.
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Don’t worry be happy. Photo: Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News
The Rangers have been the equal of the Kings in all three contests so far, and yet the Rangers are facing a 3-0 series deficit and probable defeat in the Stanley Cup Final. On the heels of a promising yet inconsistent first regular season under Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have shown a huge amount of promise in the playoffs to get to their first Cup Final since the magical ride of 1994.
There has been a ton of positives that should provide plenty of hope for the future. Smiling in the face of defeat, let’s look at a few things that should excite Rangers fans moving forward.
Norway has a hockey force
It seems a long, long time ago since the whole ‘Is Mats Zuccarello NHL calibre’ debate. Zuccarello has grown throughout this season (and the Final) and after discussing whether Zuccarello could do more after Game One of the Cup Final, boy has he.
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Does Kreider have the overall game to be the Rangers go-to guy on offense? (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Rangers are on the cusp of the Stanley Cup for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is their team depth. Eight players currently have ten or more points in this years playoffs, while nine forwards currently average over fourteen minutes per game. However, among this depth is also a lingering problem; no player has truly emerged as the go-to guy on offense.
Martin St Louis has recently shown a consistency that the entire league has been accustomed to seeing from him for a decade, and when you factor in his tragic circumstances, his performance has been admirable. Meanwhile Chris Kreider has produced in bursts and is the only Ranger that is producing at a point per game rate (nine in ten, to date) but Kreider has been defensively erratic and has produced in bunches. Can he be relied upon to be THE difference maker?
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AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
When Chris Kreider went down with his hand injury in March, the immediate effect wasn’t apparent. The Rangers kept winning, and the hole in the lineup, specifically on the second line, wasn’t exposed. That’s to be expected when you consider the relatively easy March/April schedule for the Rangers, but with the playoffs looming, the club had a real problem on their hands. They didn’t have the depth to replace a top-six forward.
The hole was something that New York struggled to fix. Jesper Fast proved to be effective in a defensive role, but lacked the offensive punch (for now) to be a mainstay in the lineup. J.T. Miller had the exact opposite problem, as his play without the puck was too erratic to counter his aggressive play. Dan Carcillo was certainly effective, but he has always been more of a wild card than a reliable offensive force. Call him the new Sean Avery, circa 2011. None of these three had the ability to fill the hole Kreider left, and it showed.
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Returning tonight. Sweet.
With the news of Chris Kreider’s imminent return to the Rangers line-up (likely tonight), it’s fair to say the sooner the talented winger is back in the line-up the better the Rangers chances are to overcome the Penguins. The fact that a rookie – who has had a solid yet unspectacular first full season with the Rangers – is almost seen as a saviour for the offense can be seen as an indirect criticism of most if not all of the Rangers big name offensive players up front, most notably Rick Nash.
How Chris Kreider fares in this year’s playoffs and the start of next season will have a direct impact on the future of Rick Nash. Many Rangers fans have already begun to jump off the Nash bandwagon amid his distinct lack of playoff production. If Kreider could come back and become the consistent scorer everyone thinks he could be it could spell danger for Nash’s Rangers future.
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Per the team’s Twitter, Chris Kreider is at the morning skate, and is not wearing a non-contact jersey. All signs point to the winger returning to the lineup tonight, and at a very critical time for the Rangers.
Alain Vigneault has noted that Kreider is medically cleared to play, but is unsure if he will dress tonight.
In case you forgot, Chris Kreider has had success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before
Though coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say it outright, it sure sounds like winger Chris Kreider is getting very close to returning to the Rangers’ lineup.
Kreider has missed the team’s last 19 games with an undisclosed left hand injury and would be a major addition to New York’s suddenly offensively-starved lineup.
Vigneault has been married to his unofficial top line – Benoit Pouliot/Derick Brassard/Mats Zuccarello – and his outstanding fourth line – Brian Boyle/Dominic Moore/Derek Dorsett – for most of the second half, but he’s had a devil of a time finding the right combination with Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan. Even when Kreider was healthy, chemistry wasn’t automatic, but at least Vigneault had a complete set of top-six forwards (in theory) to choose from. It’s a lot easier to mix and match that way then when a fourth liner like Danny Carcillo is being asked to skate with key offensive players.
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Per Steve Zipay, injured winger Chris Kreider will likely miss the first round of the playoffs, but should be ready for the second round should the Rangers advance:
Chris Kreider (surgery on left hand March 28) is progressing and the 17-goal scorer should be ready if the Rangers advance to the second round.
This means that the Rangers will need to dress Jesper Fast (or Dan Carcillo) for the entirety of the first round.
Per Andrew Gross, both Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider were skating today at the Rangers optional skate. Neither did intensive work, with McDonagh doing some light skating and Kreider gripping his stick with one hand, but it’s a good sign to see them skating. Alain Vigneault did not give a timetable for either’s return, but did mention he is unsure if he wants McDonagh to return before the playoffs. Naturally, Kreider needs to grip a stick with two hands before he returns.
There’s no need to rush either guy. There’s a week before the playoffs start, let them get that extra week.