Chris Kreider was an NHL record-setter before he ever played a regular-season game.
Kreider, the 19th player chosen at the 2009 NHL Draft, scored five goals for the New York Rangers during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, sparking a run that carried them within two wins of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1994. He did it despite coming in cold: Kreider signed with the Rangers after the regular season because he was busy helping Boston College win the NCAA championship.
SOG: 90 | +/-: 10
"The experience wasn't something I was used to," Kreider said. "I was trying to stay focused. I was very near-sighted, trying to contribute and stay in the lineup."
Kreider declined to bask in the glory, and that was nothing new. There's a saying at Boston College that reads, "When you walk in our door, your ego stays."
"Chris bought right into that," BC coach Jerry York said. "I think Chris likes being part of the team. He doesn't have to be first in line. He doesn't need that attention."
He didn't get a lot of positive attention during the truncated 2012-13 season, one that saw him bounce between New York and its American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford, dealt with a bone chip in his ankle and failed to impress former Rangers coach John Tortorella.
Alain Vigneault, who replaced Tortorella last summer, initially wasn't any more impressed by Kreider than his predecessor had been, and sent him to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL to start the 2013-14 season. But Kreider was recalled Oct. 24, and since then he's played like someone who's bound and determined never to see ride the minor-league buses again. The 22-year-old has 11 goals, 25 points and a plus-10 rating in 38 games. Nineteen of his points are goals or primary assists, and 10 of his goals have come in Rangers wins.
He's also provided a physical presence for his linemates, United States Olympian Derek Stepan and Canadian Olympian Rick Nash. Kreider's 101 hits lead Rangers forwards and rank third among NHL rookies. Last Saturday, he took part in his first NHL fight against rugged Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf and more than held his own.
To York, Kreider's success was only a matter of time.
"This is kind of a breakthrough year for him," York said. "When he went to prep school, it took him a little bit of an adjustment period and then be became a dominant prep school player. With us it was the same thing and then it just took off. He really felt comfortable and had an incredible career here at BC."
Kreider said he wasn't angry when he was sent to Hartford to start the season, but he didn't exactly hide his displeasure over the memory.
"I did what I needed to do," Kreider said. "I got an opportunity to work on things and try to earn that spot."
"He never seemed angry or mad about the situation, just a little more determined. I think that's kind of what drives him," said Rangers goalie Cam Talbot, Kreider's teammate in Hartford at the start of the season. "He's a very goal-oriented kid. You can see when he gets something in his mind, he's going to work that much harder to get to it. You can see that in his game now. As soon as they told him what to do, he worked on it. He put it in his mind that he could do it."
Kreider made his playoff splash in 2012 largely due to his physical skills; he's 6-foot-3, 226 pounds and skates well. That was enough to make him dominant at lower levels, but as NHL Network Craig Button notes, physical skills will get a player only so far in the NHL.
"The thing about Chris Kreider is when he was in college and other levels below the NHL, his skating was so exceptional that he just skates past people, they're just not good enough," Button said. "At the NHL level, not only are guys good enough, but they're smart enough to cut you off. What I see with his skating now, he's using it now to drive past people. He gets into those 1-on-1 confrontations and he's not getting negated anymore. Now he's powering through people."
Kreider and Stepan have a prior connection; they were teammates on the United States World Junior Championship teams that won gold in 2010 and bronze the following year. In New York, Kreider has taken full advantage of his linemate's playmaking ability.
"All that is just a testament to Derek," Kreider said. "He's one of those players, it doesn't matter who you put him with, he's going to create and bring out the best in them. He's so cerebral and so communicative, and it's just a team guy in general who wants to win. He's the kind of guy you want to play with."
Vigneault feels there's a "sense of responsibility and a sense of trust" between the duo, and he's delighted with what he's seen from Kreider since his return.
"Ever since he's been back, he's been one of our more efficient players," Vigneault said. "He uses his strength; he's a good skater, he's a strong skater, he could push the defense back and make them pay on the forecheck, and he's real tough to handle in front of the net.
"When he goes there -- he loves those tough areas -- he gets rebounds. He's been a real good player for us."