New York Rangers fans might need to accept that Chris Kreider is just a good player – and might never be a great one.
Chris Kreider’s final period of 2016-17 was one of his best of the season for the New York Rangers. Ironically, that might serve as the most convincing evidence that he’ll never grow into an NHL star. Or perhaps, that he’s ready to break out in 2017-18?
It’s still like that with Kreids.
The Rangers’ left wing, who looks like he was designed in a laboratory, was an absolute monster in the final 20 minutes of Game 6 against the Ottawa Senators in the second round of last season’s playoffs. He impressed, showing off the skills that few who have played in the NHL have ever possessed. His spectacular goal off a breakaway 53 seconds into the third brought the Rangers to within one, and despite the Blueshirts’ failure to come all the way back as another season ended in crushing disappointment, the performance of No. 20 in that period still merited mention.
Put simply, Ottawa could barely handle him. His speed. His size. His power. Kreider reflected his team’s desperation, leveraging every bit of his ability in trying to avoid an early summer.
Unfortunately, the Rangers don’t face elimination every game. And as a result, they may have to finally accept Kreider as a good-but-not-great player who will only tantalize them as a modern-day Bobby Hull every now and then.
Because besides the breathtaking performances and plays that Kreider has made in his career and for all the times he leaves media members and fans gushing about a blazing rush down the left side before finishing with a goal into the top far corner of the net, too often he is left out of the conversation. There are too many long stretches in both the regular season and playoffs in which he seems to disappear.
And that just might be the way it will always be. But again, with Kreider, who knows?
“I thought that I made strides as a pro. It felt like I was more consistent over the course of the regular season for sure,” Kreider said on breakup day after the postseason elimination. “I like my response in a lot of regards after maybe I had a tough game during the regular season, didn’t allow it to snowball, so yeah, I’d like to think I got better as the season went on.”
To be sure, Kreider had his best season in 2016-17, setting a career high with 28 goals and matching a career-best with 25 assists. 15 of those goals, though, came in 33 games before the new year, with only 13 coming in his final 42 contests.
He scored six goals in a four-game span from Dec. 23-31, but also endured two nine-game goal droughts during the season. He scored three times against the Senators in the playoffs, but that followed a goal-less performance in a six-game, first-round series win over Montreal.
He is only 26 – but does that mean there’s plenty of time for him to reach new heights, or should he already be there at this age?
An enigma? And then some.
But maybe what the Rangers get from the 6-foot-3, 228-pound left wing is just fine, and it’s time to stop expecting greatness.
Kreider has spoken about his penchant for sometimes overthinking the game rather than just playing, the way he did in Game 6 against Ottawa. He’s a thoughtful and cerebral guy. That’s who he is. Can that really be changed?
His amazing tools have always stamped him as a superstar in the making, and that can be a curse as well as a blessing. The great ones had those tools plus the ferocity and killer instinct to match. Kreider works hard and is committed to his teammates and club, but maybe he doesn’t hit the ice looking to step on anyone’s throat. If that’s the case, it’s going to be disappointing to fans, but it’s really nothing for which Kreider needs to apologize.
Along with the burden of exceptional ability, the Rangers’ desperate need for an elite offensive game-breaker heaps pressure on him. Kreider is one of the few on this roster that has the chance to become one, but such players are so valued for a reason: There are so few. Kreider can’t hide behind the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin as he tries to figure it out.
And fans have been waiting for just that to happen since the Massachusetts native joined the Rangers as a 20-year-old for the 2012 playoffs after his season at Boston College ended. The 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft dazzled at times, especially with five goals and two assists in the Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference finals. At that point, he ever-so-briefly found himself to be the sports talk of the town.
Five regular seasons of ups and downs, tantalizing potential and frustrating inconsistency later, perhaps Kreids is what he is: A 20-25 goal scorer (he’s averaged 23 over the past three seasons) who stands in front of the net, battles in the corners and can occasionally take over a game with his incredible speed and strength, rather than dominating nightly. He’s dependable, playing at least 75 games in each of the past three seasons, and even stands up for his teammates and fights when necessary.
If that’s the case, it is up to each fan to decide if it’s enough.
Kreider’s name seems to be tossed around as a trade candidate every offseason – get something for him while his value is high, the thinking usually goes – but that seems like folly. He’s signed for the next three seasons at $4.625 million per, and his talent may simply be too abundant and special for the Rangers to risk giving up on him.
Perhaps they and the fans will eventually need to accept Kreider for being good and not great. Still, you never know. That third period against Ottawa…