When the Rangers asked 20-year-old Chris Kreider to forego his senior season at Boston College to join the club just before the start of the postseason, there were no expectations for him to make an immediate impact.
Coach John Tortorella admitted he knew nothing about the kid but was excited to have him in the fold. But with the Rangers entering the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's top team and injury free, there wasn't an opening for Kreider.
A three-game suspension to Carl Hagelin opened the door for Kreider, and he has stormed through it. He had the winning goal in Game 6 with the Rangers trailing the Senators 3-2 in the best-of-seven series and was a factor in the Rangers' first goal in a Game 7 win.
Tortorella heaped high praise on Kreider before Game 7 and he backed up those words by playing him a series-high 18:21 and having him on the ice with the Rangers protecting a one-goal lead late in the third period.
With Brian Boyle's status in question for the series against the Capitals, Kreider's spot in the lineup is likely secure even if Boyle returns.
Kreider started the series playing on the Rangers' top line with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. While he filled the role admirably in Game 3, his minutes in Game 4 were negligible due to a flurry of power plays for each team. But since then, the 6-foot-3, 230 pound left wing has seen his role expand.
"He's an easy guy to play with," Callahan said. "For a young guy, he talks a ton out there, and that helps. His size, the way he protects the puck -- I think it fits in great with the way Stepan and I have been playing. The way we play is below the hash marks. It's going to be scary to watch him play in a couple years. The way he was able to step into this situation and play the way he did and play the minutes he did, it says a lot."
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