With the Rangers off to a 1-3-0 start, there have certainly been a number of issues that are cause for concern for Rangers fans. While the team continues to develop chemistry with each other and work on the same problems that have plagued their power play for seemingly over a decade, one of the other problems that has flown somewhat under the radar has been the early-season regression of Chris Kreider. The Rangers’ 19th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Level Draft exploded onto the scene during the playoffs last year when he recorded five goals (two game-winners) and two assists for seven points in his first 18 games in a pressure-filled environment and it seemed like Kreider was on the fast track to becoming a top-six forward on this team perhaps as early as this season.
But this year has been different. Kreider has skated in three games in the 2012-2013 season so far and has been held pointless with just one shot on goal, two penalty minutes and a minus-two rating while sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch in the Rangers’ 2-1 loss to the Flyers on Thursday night. John Tortorella has repeatedly talked about how Kreider would have to earn playing time this year, and right from the beginning of camp it seemed like Torts wasn’t overly impressed with what he saw from Kreider. Tortorella went out of his way to say he thought Kreider did some things well in the playoffs last year, while also being “God awful” in some games. Following the Rangers’ first win of the season against the Bruins in overtime on Wednesday night, where Kreider finished with just 7:21 TOI after taking a bad penalty that led to a goal, Tortorella admitted that Kreider hasn’t played well and said that management would have to meet and go over what the best course of action would be to take with Kreider’s development.
So, the question is, then, what should the Rangers do with Chris Kreider?
In an ideal world, Chris Kreider would be able to take his bumps and bruises in his first NHL season on the third line while he figures things out. But this isn’t an ideal world. Instead of being able to just quietly go about his business, Kreider’s struggles are magnified now more than ever because of the fact that the season is only 48 games long and that the Rangers have gotten off to a slow start. Think about this: if the Rangers were 3-0-0 right now, would Kreider really be a main topic of conversation? The problem with sending Kreider down to Hartford is the fact that the Rangers may not have many better upgrades unless they make a trade in the future. The Rick Nash trade added to the Rangers one of the league’s top superstars, but it also took away both Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov from the second and third lines. When that trade happened it became clear that the team was banking on Chris Kreider picking up where he left off in the playoffs last year and being a steady presence on the second or third line while continuing to adjust to the NHL. But now that Kreider is struggling, who are the realistic options to replace him on the roster? Looking at the Connecticut Whale roster, the only names that stand out are Kris Newbury, Brandon Segal, Michael Haley and newly-acquired Ben Ferriero. The one thing all those names have in common is that they’re all journeymen AHLers who really should not be on any NHL roster, much less a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. The Rangers wouldn’t send Kreider down to recall J.T. Miller, Christian Thomas or Ryan Bourque because they’d be faced with the same problem of having to teach a young player how to play in the NHL during a shortened season. The only realistic option I thought the Rangers had to replace Kreider within the organization was Chad Kolarik, but he was jettisoned to Pittsburgh on Thursday in the deal that brought back Ferriero. Kolarik actually has some skill and could’ve provided some decent playmaking ability similarly to John Mitchell when the Rangers brought him up last year, but he’s no longer an option.
If it was up to me I would just let the kid play. Give him 15 minutes a night with some power play time and see what he can do. If he still can’t figure it out a week or two from now, then send him down. Unless the Rangers bring in another forward, I just don’t see any better options than Chris Kreider for the third line right now. We know the kid can play, and it seems like the slow start he got off to in the AHL zapped his confidence and maybe provided a little bit of a blow to his ego. Think about it – this kid won an NCAA Title last year, signed his first NHL contract 24 hours later and then became a main contributor that helped the Rangers make it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Fast forward five or six months later and he’s playing in Hartford without being able to have any contact with John Tortorella and without being able to go through a full training camp because of the lockout. Maybe he got a bit too ahead of himself from all the success he had early in his career. Who knows? The one thing we do know is that this kid can play hockey. He was a first-round draft pick for a reason, and he showed flashes of his talent last year in the postseason. I do think he’ll be fine, but the Rangers need to figure out what to do with him and quick. Playing him five minutes a night isn’t going to help his development, but at the same time I understand that he’s done nothing so far this season to warrant John Tortorella to increase his ice time.
Even though I personally would like to see Chris Kreider figure things out up here with the Rangers, I do get the feeling the trade that brought in Ben Ferriero could be a pre-cursor to demoting Kreider to the Whale in the near future. The one thing I’ll say about AHL veterans, though, is that we know what their ceiling is and that for the most part they’re third and fourth line checking forwards who can rack up penalty minutes and might get lucky and chip in with a goal every now and then. With Kreider, his ceiling is certainly much higher than that and it’s simply a matter of when – not if – he gets back on track towards fulfilling that potential.
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