Chris Kreider came into 2015-16 with the expectation that he would take the next step in his development and round out the edges of his game to become the gamebreaker his natural gifts tell us he should be.
Statline: 21 goals (0), 22 assists (-3), 43 points (-3) in 79 games played (-3) 49.7% CF at even strength.
(Changes from 2014-15 in parentheses, all numbers courtesy of War-on-Ice and at even strength)
The Story: 6'3, 225 lbs, speed to burn, and a quick release. These wonderful natural gifts should make Chris Kreider one of the best players not only on the Rangers but in the entire league and the 2015-16 season should have been the year that it all clicked. Instead, Kreider turned out to be one of the more frustrating players on the Rangers roster.
That isn't to say that Kreider had a bad year, per se, far from it. Kreider's possession numbers may look poor but his relative possession (3.3% at evens) showed us that, like J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes, when Kreider was on the ice he was doing his best at making sure the puck went towards the right net. The problem was that most of the time when Kreider had the puck it was a wild shot wide that would ring around the end boards and end up out of the zone. Kreider's play did suffer a bit from the defense's inability to get the puck out of their own end and negated the Boxford, Mass. native's best weapon, his speed. That could be blamed on coaching having a poor breakout strategy, but it also falls on Kreider a bit for falling into a very predictable habit which made it easier for teams to negate that speed.
While it is true that Kreider had a touch of bad scoring luck through most of the season, his process in getting the puck on net wasn't helping his luck. Kind of a mirror to J.T. Miller's success this past season, Kreider's flawed process wasn't rewarding him with results.
Chris Kreider relies, perhaps too much, on his natural gifts. It's something that happens when a player with his size and speed combination comes up through the NCAA system and finds success by being bigger, faster, and stronger than everyone else. Kreider never really learned how to play in the offensive zone when he was developing his talent and trying to skate through NHL defenses like they're NCAA defenses just isn't going to work. Kreider's biggest flaw lies between the ears; he just doesn't have the hockey sense right now to play in the offensive zone and find the open areas of ice where he could use that wonderful shot that he abuses by severely underutilizing it to put up the 30-35 goals and 55-60 points we all think (or hope) he should be putting up in the NHL.
Final Grade: B-
Often this year I referred to Kreider as Tantalus, the character from the old Greek tragedy. His natural talent teases you and makes you beg him to figure out the mental aspect of the game only to have him take two steps into the zone and rifle a puck wide and out for the 15th time a game. To his credit, Kreider looked his best this year when he wasn't the primary puck carrier into the zone and was slotted on the right wing instead of the left and that even with all of his faults and boneheadedness he still put up a solid 43 point season. Just imagine what he could do if he figures it all out.