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Chris Kreider vows to be more physical for Rangers

With new four-year contract, forward promises he'll be power source

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The expectations being placed on New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider going into this season have not changed from last summer.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault suggested 11 months ago that scoring 30 goals was a realistic goal for Kreider. He instead scored 21 for the second straight season, a disappointing total that brought up more questions than answers.

On Wednesday, New York associate coach Scott Arniel made the same suggestion Vigneault made last summer, but he put a caveat on it for Kreider, who avoided arbitration by signing a four-year, $18.5 million contract on July 22.

"He's an easy 30-goal scorer if he can have a consistent 80 or 82 games," Arniel said by phone.

Consistency has eluded Kreider in his four years with the Rangers. It was never more obvious than last season.

He started slowly and his problems grew to the point where his scoring woes began to affect other areas of his game. He needed a hot streak at the end of the season, 10 goals in his last 22 games, to reach those 21 goals.

Video: Chris Kreider on signing four-year extension

Why did it happen? Where did Kreider go wrong?

Finding the answers to those questions has been Kreider's mission since the Rangers were eliminated by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round.

Kreider has retraced his steps from last season, met with Vigneault and Arniel, gone over video and pored over the feedback. He said he thinks he has the answers.

"I probably spread myself too thin and got away from the player I know I am," Kreider said. "It's just about getting back to that power-forward game. I know what I do well and I know what I'm good at, and it's sticking with those things."

It's five things in particular, Arniel said, mentioning speed, being physical, wall play, getting to the net, and playing within the system. They are the same five things Arniel said he brought up with Kreider during the 2014-15 season.

"I remember we had a conversation asking him about what kind of player did he think he was, and he didn't say I'm a toe-dragging, stick-handling guy who can beat guys 1-on-1," Arniel said. "He knew what he was. He said it. I wrote it down on a piece of paper and it was five things that a true power forward needs to do every game. Then he got away from those things [last season]."

Kreider, 25, has to get back to them this season to be the player the Rangers think he can be.

Speed and skating ability are two of Kreider's greatest strengths, best utilized when he's playing a north-south game. Kreider was guilty of trying to go around the opposition last season instead of through them, which he has the power to do.

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm5: Kreider deflects shot past Murray

"When he does that, it makes him a nightmare for defensemen," Arniel said.

At 6-foot-3, 226 pounds, Kreider is big enough and strong enough to be a physically imposing forward. He needs to bear down on defenseman, play through people.

"Whether or not you have the puck, you can be taking the body and you can be moving your feet through people," Kreider said. "It's something I can do on a consistent basis regardless if we're moving the puck down low or moving the puck through the neutral zone."

Kreider's play on the boards, particularly in the Rangers defensive zone, is a key to his success and something he analyzes after each game. Arniel said Kreider has been good at it, but not all the time.

Kreider also mentioned how he found himself carrying the puck through the neutral zone last season. He instead needs to be attacking down the middle of the ice and knifing to the front of the net to establish position.

"It's what I should have been doing last year and it's what I will be doing this year," Kreider said. "It's big, strong, fast, mean and imposing. Getting to the net and playing a power-forward game, creating space, north-south."

Video: NYR@PIT, Gm2: Kreider pads Rangers' lead early in 3rd

Toss in consistently being in the right spot in the Rangers' systems play, including in the defensive zone, on faceoffs and on the power play, and they feel Kreider can be one of the NHL's top physical forwards, a bargain for $4.625 million per season for the next four.

"Consistency for me in the NHL is the single biggest word that can be associated to you for either having a fantastic year or having a bad year," Arniel said. "Those guys that figure out the consistency are the ones that take it to the next level, are the ones that win Stanley Cups, are the ones that make the players around them better. That's Chris' next step.

"I don't have to tell him anymore what the five steps are or show him on video, because he already knows; now it's just a case of him finding consistency so driving to the net becomes an automatic, where you're taking that hard, heavy route instead of taking the easy route. It's all part of the growth. If he finds that consistency, we've got a whole other player."

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