Continuing our Report Card series, let's take a look at arguably the Rangers most important forward going into the next five years and how he took a major step forward this season.
Everyone knows his story; winning a National Championship to putting up 5-2-7 in 18 playoff games to being downgraded to a 4th line/AHL role the following season while he still tried to figure out how to use all of his fantastic tools in an NHL game.
To say Chris Kreider has had an interesting start to his NHL career would be an understatement.
The 6'3" 230lb winger from Massachusetts had a lot riding on this season. He had gone from playoff hero, to borderline AHL disappointment in the span of a year and after starting the 2013-14 campaign with the Hartford Wolf Pack, Kreider went on to have a breakout year.
With the Rangers going through a massive coaching upheaval. Gone was the fire and brimstone of John Tortorella and in was the calm analytical mind of Alain Vigneault, Chris Kreider was one of the Rangers looked upon as needing to make a big impression with the new regime in order to have a shot at the big club. Needless to say, he didn't and the coaching staff felt that Kreider needed a little bit more seasoning down in the AHL before he made the jump full time to the NHL.
This should have been our first clue that AV knew a thing or two about this whole coaching thing.
Eight games into what was an abysmal start for the Rangers, Kreider got the call and while the Rangers may have lost the game in Philadelphia 2-1, Kreider went on to post a 58.8% CF in 19 minutes of ice time and picked up an assist.
It only got better from there for the young left winger went on to have a career year, putting up 17-20-37 while driving possession at a 55.7% clip all while facing the opponent's toughest competition while playing on the Rangers top line with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash (Mats Zuccarello got time here when Nash was hurt) over 66 games (Kreider missed time because of a broken hand at the end of the season).
Because of that broken hand, Kreider was forced out of the first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers and with the Rangers back to the wall in Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Kreider (who returned in Game 4 of the series) got the Rangers started on their way to a comeback with a power play goal and an assist in Game 5 as a catalyst for the Rangers historic comeback.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Kreider again had a huge impact against the Canadiens when he totally, intentionally ran Carey Price on purpose without any help from Alexi Emelin and his stick. He also picked up eight points in six Conference Finals games, including a 4 point night in Game 5.
Final Thoughts/Contract Status
This was a big stepping stone year for Chris Kreider and it showed that the Rangers holding onto their speedy winger in every proposed Nash trade was the right move. There are still some kinks to work out in his game, but if the Rangers can get this kind of production out of the big 23 year old and his scoring goes up then the Rangers have a corner stone forward to build around for the future.
Kreider's initial ELC expired this season and is currently a Restricted Free Agent with no arbitration rights which gives him no real bargaining power. What I'd like to see the Rangers do is give him a solid 3 year contract at around 2.5 million per year