Kreider's focus on education, preparation
Elite NHL prospect has clear goals for self as a junior at Boston College
Monday, 06.13.2011 / 2:45 PM / Prospects Central
• VIDEO: Kreider Interview at World Juniors
• Your View: Is Kreider Destined for NHL Stardom?
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Chris Kreider is a very impressive young man.
You would say that after meeting Kreider even if you didn't know that this 20-year-old from Boxford, Mass., is among a small handful of the world's top hockey players in his age group with the brightest possible future awaiting him in the NHL. You would say that about Kreider even if you knew nothing about his talents as a hockey player or didn't even realize he played the game at all.
Just one or two conversations with Kreider, whom the New York Rangers selected 19th overall in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, should help realize a few basic things about him as a person.
He is smart, articulate, thoughtful, and most notably, he manages to be frank and forthright while also being extremely humble for a person of his ability. Kreider will tell you exactly what is on his mind, particularly when it comes to matters of self-assessment, and he is the first to say he feels he has a lot more to prove even though his hockey resume is already so impressive.
"One thing about Chris from the time we met him playing in Phillips Andover is that he has always been a very honest guy," said Jeff Gorton, the Rangers' Assistant Director, Player Personnel. "He says what's on his mind. ... Back then he wasn't like some of the other guys telling us he'd play (in the NHL) within a year or be doing something specific. Chris has always had a plan whether it's with his career or it's with his academics, and he has pretty much hit every goal he has set out to do."
Read about the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Chris Kreider in print or online publications that cover NHL prospects, or look at his remarkable accomplishments over two years since the Rangers were fortunate enough to draft him, and you will have a strong sense that Kreider possesses the talent and tools to become a key piece of the young core with the Blueshirts.
|Rangers 2009 first-round pick Chris Kreider, one of the world's top NHL prospects, led Team USA with four goals at the 2011 World Junior Championship tournament at Buffalo and claimed a bronze medal just one year after capturing a historic gold medal.
• VIDEO: Bronze-Medal Game Highlights
Kreider is, in fact, all of the above.
On the hockey side alone, it’s hard not to gawk at his accomplishments because he is a rare and remarkable NHL prospect. He was ranked as the 18th best prospect in the 2011 Hockey News Future Watch edition -- a highly-respected assessment of the top young players destined for NHL careers -- after rising four spots from No. 22 in 2010.
Rankings are one thing, but when it comes to what Kreider does on the ice, there are a few basics every Rangers fan should know.
First there is his speed. It is world-class by all accounts and fuels much of his game, particularly when combined with his extremely high level of fitness and imposing size. The 2011 Future Watch issue raved about that speed, projecting him as "a top-line forward, whose game reminds scouts of Eric Staal."
Current Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh has described Kreider as having "unbelievable wheels" and called him a "scary guy to play against" based on their meeting in the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four championship game, when Kreider won a title with Boston College, and McDonagh and current Rangers forward Derek Stepan were runners-up with Wisconsin.
"He's definitely a threat every time he's on the ice," said Danny Hobbs, a 2007 Rangers prospect from UMass-Amherst, who got to know Kreider both on and off the ice over the past year. "The way he uses his speed and big frame to drive the net. He's definitely a dynamic player."
The second major thing about Kreider is the special place he occupies in USA Hockey circles and that he is shaping up as a huge part of Team USA’s future. Kreider has led Team USA in goal-scoring at each of the past two World Junior Championship tournaments -- tallying 10 goals over his two trips to the tournament that features the world's best players under 20 years old.
Among U.S. players who appeared in two World Junior tournaments, only Jeremy Roenick and Brian Gionta scored more goals than Kreider, whose 10-goal total equals the number scored by longtime NHL superstars John LeClair and Mike Modano. Kreider is also one of only three college freshmen (along with current NHL stars Erik Johnson and Phil Kessel) to make the U.S. World team since 1990.
The third thing about Kreider is that he wins -- a lot. In 2009-10, his first season after being drafted, Kreider was one of the top players on only the second U.S. team to win a World Junior gold. His teammates included Stepan and childhood friend Ryan Bourque, a fellow Blueshirts prospect. In the season he won gold, Kreider went on to play on Boston College teams that won the Beanpot Tournament, the Hockey East championship, and the NCAA title.
This past season he won a bronze medal in his return to the World Juniors, scoring two goals in the bronze-medal game victory over an elite Swedish team that featured three other Rangers prospects in Tim Erixon, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fasth.
|Chris Kreider poses for a photo with a young Rangers fan during Team USA's World Junior team evaluation camp last summer at Lake Placid, N.Y. Kreider is very open to interaction with fans and has already developed an online following on Twitter.|
"He goes to the World Junior and he immediately impacts a tournament which has got the best 19 and 20-year-old kids in the world -- the next group of kids coming into the NHL," noted Clark. "He doesn't just have a good World Junior Championship -- he impacts it with the type of goals and the type of speed that he has. It's a big indicator for us, because it's the closest thing we have to seeing somebody in an NHL atmosphere."
In 2010-11 Kreider also claimed another Beanpot championship, capturing MVP honors with two goals and an assist on the game-winner in a dramatic 7-6 OT victory over Northeastern on Valentine's Day. He would have gone on to play a big role in helping Boston College win its second straight Hockey East championship, but he missed the final four regular-season games and the entire Hockey East playoffs with a broken jaw suffered in the second period of a 4-0 home win over New Hampshire on March 4.
"One of my teammates scooped up the puck around the blue line on the penalty kill and he went to ice the puck down the ice," Kreider recalled. "I saw him let it go, so I turned my head expecting it to be iced to see if I could get off the ice or not, and I took it right in the back of the jaw. It was kind of a freak accident and really unlucky. It immediately broke my jaw in two places."
Toughness won’t be any issue for Kreider in the NHL, either. At the time he got hurt, Kreider didn't even want to come out of the game.
"I tried to play immediately after the injury, which obviously wouldn't have been a good idea," Kreider said. "The trainer basically had to tackle me to keep me from getting to the bench. My response was 'You don't skate with your jaw', but his response was that I didn't want to damage it long-term. I was lucky it wasn't displaced. ... There are no lingering effects except that I have plates in my jaw. That's really about it."
In typical Kreider fashion, he managed to turn a painful and untimely injury into a learning experience.
"It was kind of a blessing in disguise, I guess," he said of the injury. "I got to take a step back and appreciate the game itself more while I was viewing it from the stands, which I hadn't done really at all in my career. So I think it actually helped me to better myself as a player, and obviously as a person."
Without Kreider, the Eagles still won the Hockey East title and raised their record to 30-7-1 heading into their NCAA first-round game against Colorado College at St. Louis. Off skates for only one week with the injury, a "refreshed" Kreider was back in the lineup for that NCAA game, and he assisted on the first goal just 19 seconds into the opening period of an 8-4 upset loss to the Tigers.
|Chris Kreider stood out for his speed and scoring touch at both the 2009 and 2010 Rangers Prospect Development Camps at the MSG Training Center. He came back for the 2010 camp having bulked up considerably during his first year at Boston College.|
Perhaps the best play he made in the whole tournament was his lone assist, which came in a 4-2 win over Norway. Kreider flew down the left wing, and his perfect pass from along the left boards went right over the stick of a defenseman to linemate Nick Palmieri, who was crashing the net for a slam-dunk goal.
"I felt much more comfortable," Kreider said of his second time around at Worlds. "It was night and day. The year before it was really eye-opening. I wouldn't say I was nervous so much as tentative at times. ... I really probably wasn't ready. This year, though, I was learning even more on ice, because I was getting a lot more ice-time and I was a bigger part of the team.”
Given all that Kreider has done so far, there is ample reason for Rangers fans to be very eager to see him in the NHL. But while there are so many great hockey things to note in Kreider's life, there are two equally important off-ice points: He takes the academic side of his BC experience very seriously and will not enter pro hockey until he personally feels ready. He therefore wants at least one more year of college under his belt.
Based on those two World Junior performances alone, many top draft picks in Kreider's situation might have left college already, and Kreider recognizes this. He saw how Stepan left the University of Wisconsin program to turn pro after two college seasons, and he is also aware that McDonagh made a decision to return to Wisconsin for his junior year before signing with the Rangers organization.
Kreider said he spoke with Stepan a lot during the World Championship tournament about the experience of going from a sophomore year in college to the NHL.
"I love seeing how well he's doing because he's such a great kid and he deserves it and he works so hard. He really is a consummate team player," Kreider said of Stepan. "But at the same time, I think we're completely different players. He is the kind of a player who can create for his linemates. He's a play-maker and a centerman. I can't really look at him and say I'm on the same level or at the same point he was at a given point in time. It's hard to draw parallels just because we're entirely different players."
Kreider had more than his share of huge moments as a sophomore at BC, including the Beanpot MVP, a goal and two assists in a 9-5 win over Boston University on Dec. 3, followed by a shorthanded goal in a 5-2 win vs. the Terriers one day later. He also had back-to-back two-goal games on Feb. 14 and Feb. 18.
|Chris Kreider celebrates the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four championship he won as a Boston College freshman. Kreider will return to the Eagles this season and wants nothing more than to win another NCAA title in 2012 as one of his team's top scorers.|
"What I really want to focus on now is my consistency," he said. "I think that's the most important thing and with that just kind of improve on everything that I have been improving on. I almost sounded like a broken record whenever I said that I've got to do the 'little things'. But I think I've figured out what those were and I think I've improved on them a lot."
Clark said the Rangers scouts are not overly concerned with Kreider’s stats because of where Kreider has been playing and because they know what he would bring to the NHL.
"We never expected huge numbers in college because of the depth of the program that they had, but in making the World Championship team last year and then this year he played quite a bit more," said Clark. "You just don't step into that kind of competition and score and get some points unless you're going to be some kind of a top-2 line player (in the NHL)."
Gorton notes that Kreider has gained other great assets from choosing the college route.
"We have to give credit to BC for his defensive game," said Gorton. "... I talked to Scott Gordon, who coached him at the World Championships, and his defensive play from one year to the next has been much improved. So there are other things to the game that Chris is getting over at BC that he might not be getting elsewhere."
In returning to BC, Kreider will be a go-to guy in 2011-12 because the team's leading scorer, Cam Atkinson, signed with Columbus; its second-leading scorer, Brian Gibbons, has graduated; and third-leading scorer Jimmy Hayes, a 2008 second-round draft pick, signed with Toronto. This opens the door for Kreider to contribute a lion's share of the offense.
Both Hayes and Atkinson ended their college careers following their junior seasons and were playing pro hockey just days after the NCAA tournament loss. Kreider is taking additional classes this summer so that if he leaves school after next season, he will have minimal requirements left to earn his diploma.
"Education is very important to me ... and regardless of how long it takes, I will finish my BC degree," he said. "There is life after hockey, and whether it is after next year or regardless, it's just one step closer to getting my degree, which is very important for myself and for my family. Obviously, I want to be a hockey player first and foremost, but I also feel I need to perform better at this level first."
Kreider said there is no doubt that his 2010-11 season made him feel that much closer to the NHL.
While Rangers fans will wait a bit longer to see Kreider reach the pros, they can be sure that a player of Kreider's rare talent is well worth that wait. The eventual sight of this impressive player -- and person -- flying past opponents at MSG draws closer each day.
Having Kreider in the Rangers organization is a true credit to Clark and his scouting staff, who believed in the strong and speedy winger's NHL potential despite others' concern about the level of competition he had faced in his draft year. Much like a young Brian Leetch two decades before him, he utterly dominated his prep school competition at Andover, looking like a man amongst boys. Yet given the competition, other NHL teams might have wondered if he could be such a force in tournaments like the World Juniors.
The Rangers saw what he had two years ago, however, and are being rewarded for that belief.
"I would say he's got a pro game," said Gorton. "As we project his game, and as he heads to the pros eventually, we always talk about the league getting faster every year and the day he becomes a Ranger, we're going to be a faster team. I think it's exciting. There's really been no downside of Chris since the moment we selected him."