GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York City and the National Hockey League both come with their own pressures and expectations that make playing this game and surviving in this profession incredibly hard and incredibly gratifying all at the same time.
Veteran center Brad Richards and rookie winger Chris Kreider, two of the most important figures in the New York Rangers' future plans of winning a Stanley Cup, now each have their own unique tastes of what the Big Apple and the NHL are like together. Both the 31-year-old Richards and the 20-year-old Kreider should be better for it heading into the summer and eventually the 2012-13 season.
"It's a different animal here," Rangers coach John Tortorella said, referring to New York City.
Richards and Kreider had far different experiences to talk about Monday as the Rangers said their goodbyes and headed off into the summer, still emotional over their 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday night. However, as different as they are -- one is a multi-millionaire NHL veteran and former Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy winner, the other is still a college student with courses to finish up this summer -- the importance of each player for this organization going forward is undeniable.
"I think anybody for a first year with a new team, like a guy like Richards, it's hard. There is an adjustment period there and I think you saw in the playoffs what he brings and how good he can be," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "And, a guy like Kreider, stepping in and gaining that experience right away of playoff hockey, that's going to be good for him moving forward. I think we can all see the talent he has there."
Richards came to New York with a nine-year, $60 million contract he signed last July. He came here with the expectation to be the No. 1 center, the missing piece. He came here with the pressure to be one of the best players on the planet.
It was not easy on him. It was not always positive.
"As a 31-year-old Conn Smythe winner, all the stuff he's done, this was a different year for him in understanding all the things that come with it," Tortorella said. "I think he's going to be better as he starts again next year. It's easy to say a veteran guy coming in, he'll be able to handle it. It's a different animal and he went through a process himself. At that age, 31, he went through a process coming here."
Richards was still pretty good. He finished the regular season with 66 points, including a team-high 41 assists. He led the Rangers with 15 points in the playoffs.
But, yes, he agrees with Tortorella that moving to New York under the circumstances that he did, with a big contract and even bigger expectations, meant there was a process that he had to go through.
"Definitely a new experience playing in this city, and being a Ranger is everything I thought it would be," Richards said. "I enjoyed a lot of it. Mentally it was a little different than most years coming in. I definitely gained a lot of experience and I'm probably better for it now. I had a lot of fun and had a chance to win. I got that taste back."
Richards lost that taste in Dallas. He made it to the Western Conference Final in 2008, but did not get back to the playoffs until this spring.
It's not about just getting back to the playoffs anymore. Next season, it'll be about winning the Stanley Cup.
"Obviously my situation, coming to New York, the pressure or whatever it is, expectations, that whole thing I've gone through it and learned," Richards said. "I'll just be much more comfortable coming in. I'm always more comfortable with structure and nothing is going to be new now going into next year. I'm settled and living here. It'll just be more normal."
Nothing about Kreider's ascension up the Rangers depth chart this spring was normal. He came to the Rangers directly out of college, after winning the Frozen Four with Boston College, and he was a revelation with five goals and seven points. He scored the same amount of goals in two fewer playoff games than Marian Gaborik, who had 41 in the regular season.
"It was a whirlwind," Kreider said. "It all kind of started pretty quickly and ended a little too quickly, too."
Kreider is only beginning now. Ranger fans puff out their chests when they talk about having this guy on their team, but he still hasn't been through a training camp yet, he still hasn't played in a preseason game, let alone a regular-season game.
Tortorella makes no promises about Kreider for next season, even though it would appear that he is or at least will have to be a big part of it.
"You guys (the media) have him playing 22 minutes on the first line with some of the articles you'll write before next year," Tortorella said. "I can predict that."
He can also predict that Kreider will be treated like a rookie, even though he already has more playoff experience than so many NHL veterans.
"I don't really know him that well, but one thing I know about him is he has a pretty good head on his shoulders," Tortorella added. "I watched how he dealt with you guys during it all, through all the scrutiny of the city, some of the good things he did. He's going to understand what the process is about. We'll see where it goes.
"I don't care what player you are, what pedigree (you have), what you guys think about him, draft pick, money, all that -- they're going to go through the process. That's the way it's going to work."
Kreider is prepared for the process.
When asked if he now feels comfortable being a Ranger, he answered, "I don't think comfortable is the right word."
He expects to come into camp in September and fight for a job.
"I kind of know where I want to be and what I have to do to get there, but starting next year, everyone is competing for their jobs," Kreider said. "I had an understanding of what (Tortorella) wanted me to do this postseason. I think expectations will change from everyone, showing up at training camp and trying to learn the system. I'm going to have to probably change my game up a little bit. I think it was dumbed down for me this spring."
It won't be in training camp, but Kreider is better because of his playoff experience just like Richards is better because of his full season in New York.
The Rangers will need them both to be even better if they want to go even further next season, and beyond.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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