On a team with proven All-Star performers like Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal along with a well-respected captain and U.S. Olympian in Ryan Callahan, it’s surprising to think that no other Ranger may be more popular among the masses of Rangers fans right now than freshly minted rookie Chris Kreider. And by rookie, I mean rookie. He has played all of seven games at the NHL level; all in the playoffs when it matters most with no “warm up” time in the regular season. In fact, not only is Kreider in the midst of his first games as an NHL’er he is also making his professional debut. That’s incredible; perhaps more incredible than you realize.
You want to know just how rare it is for something like this to happen? Well, consider this: I looked up the last 17 Stanley Cup champions, from Boston all the way back to our 1994 New York Rangers, and not a single one of those teams boasted a player that stepped right from their college campus onto an NHL rink to play in postseason games. Zero. Granted, I only researched Stanley Cup winners and no other squads in the playoffs during those years but all the same, the rarity of what we are witnessing with Kreider should be obvious nonetheless.
Again, let me reiterate, Kreider is stepping into the fire of the NHL playoffs directly from college hockey and completely without the benefit of a single game in the minors. Let’s face it, while many NHL players have played NCAA hockey and enjoyed successful NHL careers, the level of competition between the two is vastly different. Want proof?
I examined the roster of the 2007 NCAA champion Michigan St. Spartans as an example and found that just three members of that team have seen any action at the NHL level. Tim Kennedy, the Spartans’ leading scorer, has played all of 33 NHL games over the last two years with Florida after not even making the 2010-2011 Rangers out of training camp. Justin Abdelkader recorded 22 points in 81 games for the Red Wings this year but is hardly a star. Chris Mueller has made 19 appearances in two seasons as a member of the Nashville Predators. That’s hardly a star-studded list of players. Five years later I would have expected any members of that team with an NHL future would have already cracked a roster after five seasons and there isn’t a single member of that team that is a highly-regarded prospect.
I’m not knocking U.S. college hockey; I’m simply pointing out that a large majority of athletes who play NCAA hockey don’t go on to have NHL careers of any kind. That’s the reality. Meanwhile, not only does it appear Kreider is set to have a successful NHL career, he is doing it at an age when many hockey players have yet to even break into the league.
A simple look at his traditional counting stats in the playoffs doesn’t reveal the whole story. After seven NHL playoff games Kreider has posted just three points (two goals, one assist) in seven contests tying him with Brian Boyle for ninth on the club in postseason scoring. But anyone watching the Rangers would likely say he and Brad Richards have been the best Rangers forwards by far over the last three games.
Kreider has actually established an NHL record as he is the first player whose first two NHL goals have been postseason game-winners.
It’s no wonder he’s been a much-ballyhooed prospect for the last couple of years and the primary reason Rick Nash is not now a New York Ranger. This kid is that good. He is big (6’4”, 220) and is already being talked about by numerous analysts as being perhaps the fastest skater in the game. He has fit right into a club that focuses on playing a team-first style emphasizing defense, forechecking and sacrifice. Welcome to New York Chris, I think you’re going to love being a Ranger almost as much as Blue Shirt fans are going to love you being here.
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