OTTAWA, CANADA - APRIL 16: Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers body checks Sergei Gonchar #55 of the Ottawa Senators in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scotiabank Place on April 16, 2012 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers won a pivotal Game 3 Monday night on the heels of Carl Hagelin's three-game suspension for a high hit levied to Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. There were many questions about how the Rangers would replace Hagelin, who posted 38 points in 64 games and became a critical part of the Rangers' top line.
So while everyone was questioning who was going to replace him (either John Scott or Chris Kreider) for Game 3, John Tortorella evaluated his options. In the end, he selected Kreider, which turned out to be the right move.
This wasn't a case of Tortorella thrusting Kreider into the lineup simply because he wanted to see how the kid could handle the pressure. This was Tortorella recognizing that Kreider not only possessed Hagelin's best skill (his speed and skating) but also boasted other talents -- size, shot and offensive instincts -- to boot.
So in went Kreider (despite some fantastic mind games from Tortorella during the warmups before Game 3) and he not only impressed but contributed to the Rangers' victory.
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In the end, it was a relatively uneventful 11 minutes for Kreider, which is actually a fantastic performance from the rookie. Kreider had one genuine scoring chance, didn't get bumped off the puck, threw his weight around a little, showed off his wheels and was responsible defensively.
Here's the thing, the Rangers don't need Kreider to be great. What they actually need him to be is fast and not a defensive liability.
The biggest thing Hagelin brings to the Rangers is his speed. No matter where the puck is on the ice opposing defenseman need to know that if the Rangers control the puck he can be behind them in a minute. It's an invaluable talent to have. And one which Hagelin not only harnessed but made use of night in and night out.
As for Kreider's role, it's a little different.
He has a better shot than Hagelin and much more offensive talent, but he needs to learn how to use those skills at the NHL level. Both Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik were pleased with the way Kreider played in Game 3, but both admitted that they needed more time as a line before they were comfortable.
That will come with time. As of right now, Kreider has two more games where he will play. If he makes those minutes count, then he'll probably replace someone from the fourth line (maybe John Mitchell). Then the Rangers would have two players who could use their speed to driving opposing defenders insane.
But that's a ways away. For now, Kreider needs to just get through tonight. But as he showed in Game 3, that shouldn't be much trouble.
It only gets easier from the first game.