Rising star Kreider does nothing but win
Rangers' 2009 first-rounder took home four championships as a freshman
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Shortly after the Rangers made him their first-round pick, No. 19 overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at Montreal, Chris Kreider agreed to take questions from Blueshirts fans via newyorkrangers.com. In this first experience of the Garden Faithful, the recent Phillips Andover Academy graduate from the suburban Boston town of Boxford, Mass., could immediately see how passionate Rangers fans are.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward answered questions that covered everything from his decision to attend Boston College to the feelings he had experienced on draft day. One question wasn't even a question. It was just a statement from a fan that read: "Be good. Please be good".
If any sentence captured the expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick, perhaps this was it. Kreider smiled when he saw the screen. It wasn't a nervous or awkward smile. It was a smile of confidence, an "I can do that" sort of smile he would spend the next 12 months verifying at every turn.
Chris Kreider is good. Very, very good, based on the remarkable 2009-10 season he had with Boston College and Team USA. He did nothing but improve throughout the year, and by spring, he was the 22nd-ranked player in The Hockey News ‘Future Watch Top 50 prospects list and the only college player on the U.S. team at the 2010 IIHF World Championship tournament.
Just days after turning 19 years old, the talented left wing found himself skating alongside American NHL players in Germany, and he looked very comfortable there. When he returned to newyorkrangers.com to take more questions from fans during the tournament, his answers were thoughtful and comprehensive, and this time no one seemed to be wondering what he might bring to the Blueshirts one day.
Kreider did something even more important than establish his great NHL potential. He also learned what it takes to win -- joining current Flyers defenseman Matt Carle as the only Americans who have ever captured a World Junior Championship gold medal and NCAA title in the same year.
|Chris Kreider's remarkable freshman year of hockey at Boston College ended with the NCAA title after a 5-0 victory over the University of Wisconsin in the April 10 championship game at Detroit's Ford Field.|
"On the U.S. team I kind of found a new niche and a skill-set that I didn't really know I had," said Kreider. "The World Junior coaches kind of helped mold me into a better net-front player. I popped in some scrappy goals, so I was given the opportunity to play net-front on the second power play unit when I got back.
“The role I was relied upon to play at the World Juniors kind of opened my eyes to how I should be playing all the time. I needed to be defensively responsible, and I needed to hit. Everything kind of comes from that, I guess. Those few games helped open my eyes to what I needed to do to play at the college level and eventually someday, hopefully, play at the next level."
Saskatchewan truly was the turning point, as Kreider tied for the Team USA lead with six goals in seven games. He had a hat trick in a rout of Latvia with a goal in each period, including one on a penalty shot. He also scored at 13:56 of the second for a 1-1 tie with Canada in the gold-medal game, which Team USA went on to win 6-5 in overtime to deny the host Canadians a sixth straight gold medal.
The postgame celebration and immediate aftermath of becoming only the second U.S. team to win World Junior gold were somewhat overwhelming.
"It was kind of hard to acknowledge what was going on at first when we won," Kreider said. "I was almost numb to it. You're just so happy at first, but it kind of sank in as I began heading home."
He shared the emotional gold-medal victory with two other Rangers draftees, forwards Derek Stepan and Ryan Bourque. Kreider and Bourque have known each other since their youth hockey days in Boxford, and Bourque is already looking forward to a time when they will be reunited in the NHL as Rangers.
"We have always had a bond, and obviously winning a gold medal like that strengthened our bond," said Bourque. "Being teammates in the NHL would be obviously the goal and the dream for both of us, and to share that with him would be awesome."
Kreider's world-class speed was a major story at the World Juniors, as he drew two penalty shots and blew by the defense numerous times. His superior skating continued to draw notice in the Beanpot tournament, when he scored a highlight-reel goal coming out of the penalty box to give BC a 3-1 lead over Boston University.
Big-time goals were nothing new for a player widely considered the fastest skater in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft class, but they were coming at a much higher level than the prep-school circuit Kreider dominated at Andover. In some respects, his ease in overwhelming opponents during his mid-teen years actually worked against him when he got to college, where he had to learn a team game.
|Playing for Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championship tournament in Saskatchewan, Chris Kreider had a big hand in the Americans' run to the gold medal, as he scored six goals in seven games.|
"… They (BC coaches) focused on my playing within the team system. Knowing when to go and knowing when not to go. I also think my defensive-zone play picked up substantially."
Through his first 15 BC games before he left for Saskatchewan, Kreider had two goals and three assists during what he describes as an “adjustment” period.
"It's hard going from the level I was at, which wasn't particularly bad, to college, which was such a step up,” Kreider said. “It was going from playing against boys to playing against men, really. I was kind of one-dimensional, I guess, going into college, and the entire year, there was just so much to learn. It was great in that regard."
After coming home with a gold medal, he turned into an offensive threat, scoring 13 goals in his last 23 games -- including a pair of thrilling game-winners. His 15 total goals led all freshmen on the national-championship team, and he placed fourth on the Eagles with a plus-21 rating.
"I think I played a lot better in the second half of the season," said Kreider. "At least I contributed a lot more, and I was a lot more comfortable. ... I was pretty inspired and pretty motivated by what we had been able to accomplish at the World Junior tournament, and I just really wanted to play more hockey."
His most dramatic regular-season goals for BC came with 13.8 seconds left in the third period of a 2-1 victory over Massachusetts-Lowell on Feb. 13 and at 2:02 of overtime in another 2-1 win over Massachusetts-Amherst on Feb. 26. Kreider was named the No. 1 Star of both games.
The second half of the 2009-10 season also included Kreider's first collegiate two-goal game in a 5-4 loss to Boston University on Jan. 22, nine shots on goal in a 7-1 win over Northeastern on Feb. 21, and a career-high six-game scoring streak from Feb. 13 to March 5.
In the March 19 Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden, he had a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win over Vermont. The next night, in the championship game vs. Maine, he had two assists in a wild 7-6 overtime win against Maine. Three weeks later at the NCAA Frozen Four in Detroit, he had an assist against Miami during the semifinals and a goal in BC's 5-0 NCAA title-game win over a Wisconsin team that included two other Blueshirts prospects in Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
“The guy has got unbelievable wheels," an impressed McDonagh said of Kreider. "He can motor around and he's always looking to jump in and make some offense. He's a scary guy to play against for sure. He can be a difference-maker at any point.”
|Chris Kreider poses with Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel, after the team made Kreider its No. 1 pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.|
"I was blessed to play in so many big games this year, but I think you get used to it," he said. "If anything, you learn to block out the crowd and the atmosphere. We were playing at Ford Field after we had played at Fenway Park earlier in the year, and you could tell our team was kind of numb to the fact that we were playing at Ford Field. We had lost at Fenway, and then we kind of realized the atmosphere and the whole experience means nothing if you don't pull out the ‘W’. I came to realize that no matter where you're playing, it's still a hockey game, and you've still got to play. Nothing changes."
The USA-Germany game at Veltins-Arena featured a record crowd of 77,803 -- the largest number of fans to watch hockey live.
"That was probably the most amazing atmosphere I played in all year, just because of the European fans," said Kreider. "We actually referred to it as a soccer crowd. They were chanting all game and it was just loud. You could feel them building up at times whenever the Germans got a little bit of momentum. It was absolutely amazing. It was packed, and there were so many people. It was a once in a lifetime thing."
Clark was also at the big event in Gelsenkirchen and couldn't get over how well Kreider performed in his debut with a U.S. team that included current Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Gilroy.
"They went around the first rotation of lines, and he (Kreider) didn't get on the ice," Clark said. "Then they went around the second rotation, and they threw him out there. I was nervous for him and thinking he'd be nervous, too. I figured he'd sort of just get the puck and shoot it, but he drove wide and beat everybody with his speed around the net to make a great play to Ryan Carter out into the slot. On the next shift, he takes it wide and drills a slapper that the goalie almost missed, and I was thinking 'Wow, that is great!'"
Making the U.S. team was a huge achievement for Kreider. Clark sees it as a true signal that USA Hockey believes he is a big part of the future and wants to give him as much experience as possible. He held his own with the NHL players, picking up a goal and assist to go with a plus-3 rating in six games.
"I just felt really good for him and thought about what a great finish he was going to have to his season after winning four titles during the year," Clark said. "That experience is going to go a long way for him."
"It was a bit of a controversial pick," said Clark. "Everybody saw his skating and his size, but there seemed to be a concern that it was against a low level of competition. He was so dominant in his size and skating around players with less hockey sense, that other scouts thought his hockey sense would be a concern.
"I don’t think I’ve seen a player personally as much as I saw (Kreider) before the draft. In his draft year, I think I asked five different guys in our organization go in to look at him at different times so they could see what he was going to give them on that particular night."
While he has already had the chance to go up against NHL players, Kreider said there are many things he wants to focus on before he feels ready to attain success at the next level. These areas include his transition game, his ability to cycle the puck, and an effort to raise his slap shot to the same level as his wrist shot. Despite all he has already achieved, this desire to keep setting personal goals and see the arc of his own development is a credit to any young player and speaks well for his professional future.
"I want everything to improve, and I think everything needs to," he said. "I've got plenty of time to do that, and I'm just going to keep working on the little things."