Disappointed with the 22-year-old's showing throughout training camp and preseason, incoming coach Alain Vigneault demoted Kreider to the organization's AHL outfit, the Hartford Wolfpack, where he was to remain indefinitely.
But injuries and a pitiful display by the team in the early going (2-5 in their first seven games) forced AV to play his hand. In hopes that he could inject the senior team with some youthful enthusiasm, Kreider—who scored four points in six games with Hartford—was recalled prematurely.
Thrown into the fire in Philadelphia on Oct. 24, Kreider looked refreshed and determined. He assisted on the Rangers' only goal of the game, but also, for the first time in over a year, he didn't look timid.
He continued to impress over the course of the next couple of games, despite not registering a point, but in the Rangers' first meeting with the New York Islanders on Oct. 29, Kreider began to make legitimate strides.
He notched the game's first goal—on the power play—in the first period.
Screening the goaltender as a point shot was fired, Kreider did well to position himself for a turnaround rebound goal. Although not necessarily pretty—some may even consider it routine—it was important for Kreider because it showed to him—and the fans—that he can be a force in front of the net with his 6'3" frame.
Two nights later, Kreider scored again, this time against Buffalo's Ryan Miller.
Streaking to the net, Kreider again pounced on a rebound but found himself at a tough angle in relation to the net. A nifty veteran move later—that saw Kreider bounce the puck off Miller’s backside—and the youngster received credit for his second goal in as many games.
As impressive as the goal was, it was the overall game that Kreider played against Buffalo that—I believe—was the turning point in the young man's career.
Sure, he was good in the playoffs in 2011-12, but he wasn't playing to his potential in terms of his impact on the game.
Against Buffalo, Kreider was confident carrying the puck into danger areas, dominant along the boards and behind the net—thanks to his great size and immense speed—and, maybe most importantly, he was attacking well in the slot. Never have we seen Kreider literally prey in front of goal, setting himself up for goal-scoring opportunities, whether they came by way of one-timer or rebound.
Rangers brass drafted Kreider because they thought he could potentially develop into a top-end offensive talent, and watching him grow accustomed to the speed of the game and regain some of his confidence to become an actual force on the ice against Buffalo was very satisfying to see.
And as great as it was, it's also important to realize the game was against Buffalo—the worst team in the league. But it turned out to only be the start of great things to come for Kreider.
Two nights later, the Rangers hosted the Carolina Hurricanes, and Kreider registered a career-high three points (all assists). And in the following five games, the Boxford, Mass., native would collect four more helpers, bringing his season total to 10 points in 11 games.
Despite only scoring twice, Kreider is still creating goal-scoring chances of his own. The reason the sum isn't higher is because he's struggling to find the back of the net at the moment—a battle nearly the entire team was fighting less than a month ago.
We know Kreider can score, and it's only a matter of time before they start penetrating goaltenders. Luckily for him, though, is that he continues to be a force, and he's still registering points, which will help maintain his confidence level.
But what Kreider has been able to do over the course of these 11 games has not only been beneficial to his own personal career and development. It has changed the dynamic of the Rangers as a whole.
His size, speed and skill give the team an offensive weapon they so desperately need. Not only that, Kreider's ability to create time, space and opportunity has jump-started Mats Zuccarello's season and helped lessen the heavy offensive burden that was on Brad Richards’ shoulders early on.
And although 11 games is a relatively small sample size, there's little to suggest Kreider is going to regress much this season. I'm not predicting that he can be a point-per-game player yet, but he hasn't let up at all. In fact, he has improved with every game.
When Rick Nash returns from injury, Kreider will become even more important. Nash is the team's offensive ace, and he will be counted on to score on a nightly basis.
But the Rangers—like any team in the league—need secondary weapons. Kreider will have the opportunity to continue to flourish but under less demanding circumstances in a more withheld role.
If he can succeed then, the Rangers will be a dangerous team.
I think we could expect more of the same from Kreider the rest of the way. It's not out of the realm of possibility to suggest he could score between 40 and 45 points this year, and I think the organization and the fanbase would be more than pleased with that, considering how down on the player everyone was for the past year.
In Kreider's situation, it's a very good thing that AV is in charge rather than John Tortorella because Kreider fits the Vigneault model, which encourages the utilization of time and space to create offense.
He's executed it masterfully, and at this point, the sky's the limit.
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