NEW YORK -- Chris Kreider appears ready to live up to his potential as a fast, physical and fearsome scoring forward for the New York Rangers.
Kreider, in his fourth full NHL season, carried his strong play from the preseason into the season opener against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. He had a goal, an assist, seven shots on goal and four hits in what was a mostly dominant 16:11 of ice time in the Rangers' 5-3 win.
More of the same and Kreider will be an All-Star in January. More of the same and defensemen across the League will lose sleep when Kreider is scheduled to come at them next.
"It's going to be the key going forward, just do the things I do well and don't get away from that," Kreider said. "Those are the things I can do on a regular basis, like finishing my checks. … That's helpful. It makes the [defenseman] think twice and hopefully leads to turnovers and more zone time."
Video: NYI@NYR: Kreider beats Halak for go-ahead goal
Kreider came out of last season disappointed with his mindset and, as a byproduct, his production. He scored 21 goals, equal to what he had in the 2014-15 season, which at the time seemed like a breakout season he was sure to build on.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault definitely thought it was, suggesting before last season that 30 goals was a realistic goal for Kreider. He didn't get there because he didn't play with that drive, that speed and that power that makes him special.
Kreider (6-foot-3, 228 pounds) admittedly was trying to be too fine in his game and it spread him too thin. He was thinking about the next play when he should have been reacting instinctually with his speed, size and skill as his best assets.
He was trying to skill his way around defenders by toe-dragging or deking when he should have been powering right through them because he can and he should.
"I think at times I was too focused on puck possession stuff, like going into the corner, weight shift, weight shift," Kreider said. "No, it's going into the corner, make contact and drive your feet out of it. It's about getting back to being on my toes, just reading and reacting."
Kreider said he sought the help of a sports psychologist after last season so he could refocus to rediscover the tools that make him a nightmare for opponents. He signed a four-year contract July 22.
"Everyone is here for a reason, they do something well," Kreider said. "And I'm just focusing on doing that on a consistent basis."
It undoubtedly helps Kreider that he quickly has established chemistry with his linemates, center Mika Zibanejad and rookie right wing Pavel Buchnevich. That line has been the Rangers' best since the start of the preseason schedule.
The goal Kreider scored at 9:45 of the third period was proof.
Kreider said it was a set play for him to skate down the left wing and for Buchnevich to lift the puck up and diagonally across the ice so he could catch it, put it down and use his speed to race in for a breakaway.
"Derek [Stepan] and I were laughing because that's something I've wanted for the past four years," Kreider said. "We try to break one of our wingers away and I'm always like, 'Like a wide receiver, I'll catch it, just flip it at me if you don't see my stick.' So we were laughing that it finally worked. I hurt my hand a little, but it finally worked."
Video: NYI@NYR: Pirri buries Kreider's great feed for a PPG
It did because it was a simple play that turned out looking great. It did because Kreider used his instincts instead of his brain.
"I can speak all day about the guys I'm playing with because they're incredible and they made some ridiculous plays, but at the same time regardless of who I am playing with I can play that way," Kreider said. "That doesn't change."
But he's not perfect yet. Kreider said he remembered one play Thursday when he was guilty of thinking too much, of doing what he did far too often last season.
"The puck was rimmed around, I'm waiting for it, thinking what I'm going to do next, and [Jason] Chimera jumps on me," Kreider said. "[I should have been] attacking it, coming up with the puck, knocking him back and moving my feet again. It's playing instinctually."
He didn't do it often enough last season. He seems willing to do it consistently now. Maybe now 30 goals is possible. He looked the part Thursday.
"I think it's pretty simple for him," Stepan said. "As he's gone through his career he's starting to figure out what really works for him. Even through the preseason games he's been an absolute beast. I know Chris has worked extremely hard to continue to get better as a player and it's really good to see because it says a lot about Chris and how to improve himself, being open minded, figuring out what's going to work for him."