NEW YORK -- Nine-plus months ago, Rangers rookie Chris Kreider made his NHL debut in a playoff game against Ottawa just nine days removed from winning the NCAA championship with Boston College. He wound up scoring five goals, including two game-winners, in 18 games to help the Rangers get to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The high was incredible. The action was intoxicating.
It couldn't last.
Kreider, a Big Apple superstar last spring, is now just like every other rookie in the NHL -- trying to do all he can to keep his spot in the lineup.
After starting Wednesday's game on the second line with Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan, Kreider was demoted to fourth-line duty -- and Rangers coach John Tortorella is not ready to use a four-line rotation, meaning Kreider barely played in the second half of the game.
FANTASY HOCKEY COVERAGE
The Front Line: Top-100 forward ranksBy Matt Cubeta - NHL.com Staff Writer
In this week's edition of "The Front Line," NHL.com fantasy expert Matt Cubeta highlights some of the NHL's elder statesmen who still have what it takes to make an impact on your team. READ MORE ›
He finished the night with only nine shifts totaling 7:21 of ice time. Only one of those shifts came in the third period.
Following the Rangers 4-3 win, Tortorella talked like a coach who was ready to send the rookie winger back to the American Hockey League.
"That's something we have to really talk about as an organization because I still think he needs to go through the process," Tortorella said. "What's best for Chris and us, we have to make a decision there because I don't want him in a situation here, with the scrutiny on this club, hurting him as far as the process."
Prior to the game Wednesday, Kreider talked like a player who knows his role with the big club can be fleeting.
"I don't think from a hockey standpoint you ever want to feel comfortable, because when you're comfortable you're complacent," Kreider told NHL.com after the morning skate Wednesday. "You want to do things consistently that you know work, but you don't ever want to feel comfortable. I wouldn't say I have ever gotten in a groove; I'm just putting my head down and playing."
He's not playing well enough, at least according to his coach.
Kreider, the Rangers' first-round pick in 2009, started the season with the Connecticut Whale in the AHL but only had 12 points in 33 games. He's pointless with a minus-2 rating through three games this season.
"I've seen players ruined because you put them in a situation and they don't succeed and they never come out of it," Tortorella said. "I do not want to see that happen to him. He has too many assets. He has not played well and he knows that. We'll see where we go."
Kreider may have taken New York by storm last spring, but in reality he was just riding a wave that started with BC's run to the national championship. He came in flying high, confident in his game, and then he started to score at the NHL level.
All along Tortorella kept reminding everyone in the media that Kreider is still raw, that he still has to go what he refers to as "the process."
Tortorella couldn't wait to get Kreider into a training camp, to get him thinking, preparing and playing like a pro.
He didn't get that chance. He won't until September. It's a reality that the Rangers have to deal with, that Kreider has to deal with.
"As most teams do, we feel we have a really good camp to get us ready to play an 82-game schedule and Chris still has not gone through our camp," Tortorella said. "That'll have to wait until next year. But in the meantime this is where we're at. I just think we have to make the correct decisions and assessment of a player so we don't hurt him as he goes through the process. Chris needs to go through the process."
And what if Kreider has to go through that process back in the AHL?
Tortorella will be just fine with it.
"Sure," Tortorella said, "and that shouldn't be a shock."