Last year, I pointed out how all previous report cards for Chris Kreider featured refrains along the lines of “frequently a beast, when he gets it together,” and “maybe next year we’ll see what he can really do.” The 26-year-old shone in some games and evaporated in others, with no rhyme or reason, leaving me wondering if we’d ever see him at 100%, 100% of the time.
So you’d think I’d be delighted to report that Kreider finally delivered on his promise. Yes, it’s fair to say that the first line winger finally came into his game. Unfortunately, by the time he rose to the occasion, there was no occasion left to rise to; for the first time since Kreider donned a Blueshirt, the Rangers did not make the playoffs.
Don’t blame him. 20 got it done. He and center Mika Zibanejad led the team in CF% and xGF%; he ranks third in P/60. Even AV knew better than to mess with the magic of K and Z. Before things went south, Kreider was on track to score over 30 goals this season.
Unfortunately, Kreider’s 2018 began with a blood clot that led to surgery to remove part of a slightly-malformed rib (which somehow sounds both biblical and sci-fi-ish at the same time — they’re totally cloning him, aren’t they? YES WE’LL TAKE FIVE THANK YOU). He came back two months later, 20 pounds lighter, and told reporters that he liked how he skated at the lower weight. The team, too, was lighter, having cast off Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and Ryan McDonagh (yes, fine, Nick Holden too, whatever). They also won only 7 of the 24 games they played without him.
Why? Because Kreider embodies (literally) size, speed, and hockey smarts. The 6’3’’ wing also provides one of the best screens in the league; somebody should make a compilation of Ds trying to heave him off their doorsteps. He doesn’t have the best hands on the team, but he makes up for it with vision and timing.
There’s still one tweak I’d like to see. Unless you’re a Habs fan, Kreider’s “goalie-killing” days are way in the past; the newly-svelte #20 could really wreak some havoc by going hard to the net Nash-style. But mostly I just want to see KZB unleashed by a coach who understands their chemistry and doesn’t perpetually try to fix the one damn thing that isn’t broken.
Speaking of which, let’s not forget Kreider’s season-end zinger:
Chris Kreider on the Devils: "They're well-coached.''— Colin Stephenson (@ColinASteph) April 4, 2018
On a less petty note, let’s also remember that Kreider, now a veteran, wore an “A” a few times this season; he also ended 2017-18 as the team’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy, an honor for which he immediately deemed himself unworthy. The Masterson will likely go to former Ranger Brian Boyle; current Ranger Chris Kreider will have to settle for an A. YAY!
2018 Report Cards: Marc Staal / Mats Zuccarello / Ryan Spooner / Rob O’Gara / Jimmy Vesey / Brendan Smith / Vladislav Namestnikov / Brady Skjei / Steven Kampfer / Jesper Fast / Alexandar Georgiev / Pavel Buchnevich/ Ondrej Pavelec / Kevin Hayes / Mika Zibanejad / Alain Vigneault / John Gilmour / Ryan McDonagh / Neal Pionk / Ryan Sproul / Kevin Shattenkirk