Chris Kreider coming back and performing at this level is something he and the New York Rangers could only have dreamt of.
Prior to the injury, Kreider was not playing at the level the Rangers had hoped he would be after scoring a career-high 28 goals in 2017-18. But that success just did not translate when the season began. In his first 37 games, he only had 11 goals in a season where the Rangers needed him to score at a much more consistent rate.
One of the issues that revolved around Kreider’s game is that he didn’t look to be that same aggressive player that Ranger fans fell in love with. He was scoring but something just seemed off with him, especially considering his speed had practically disappeared.
Now, none of these issues had anything to do with a lack talent that Kreider was playing with. Prior to the injury, he was playing alongside Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. That line has seen a ton of success over the last two seasons as all three players built some quality chemistry.
Then came the injury on Jan. 8…an injury that could have been career-ending or career-altering. Kreider would go on to miss 18 games prior to making his return Feb. 23 against the Minnesota Wild. His return was much welcomed as the Rangers were going in a different direction and needed a familiar face to return to the lineup to provide some stability for a fresh, young roster.
You can definitely see how Kreider has turned into a different player since returning to the lineup. His speed is back and he has become a force once again with the body on the ice. The play where this was most notable was on the game-tying goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Just look at Kreider’s speed and skill on this rush as he eluded the defenseman Kris Letang on this play. Plays like this just didn’t happen prior to the injury. You can just tell that Kreider is now playing with a new level of confidence, one that just seemed to be nonexistent earlier this season.
Need another example? Look no further than this play from Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.
Plays like this weren’t even part of Kreider’s resume prior to the injury. This is purely a confidence play to go along with skill and Kreider is clearly playing with a great deal of confidence on the ice. It took time but Kreider has finally reached that level, a level that he quite frankly hasn’t elevated too yet in his entire career.
The Rangers and Kreider are absolutely thrilled that he is back and now producing at the level they thought he could when they drafted him 19th overall in 2009. He told Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News that he is “having fun” and that he’s playing “free hockey.
The work that Kreider had put in off the ice to make sure his return has not gone unnoticed, as head coach Alain Vigneault told Tasch.
“For me, Kreids has always been a real pro in the sense that, he’s got to be one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached as far as his physical preparation. He works so hard, does so much. Sometimes you even wonder if he’s doing a little too much off the ice, and even on the ice.”
Now at 26 years old, Kreider needs to continue to play with this level of confidence for an entire season instead of just sporadically. Perhaps this second chance will lead to Kreider becoming that player full-time.
Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a familiar face return to the lineup. It’s even more refreshing to see a rejuvenated and confident Kreider returning to help out the Rangers.