Skip to main content

Kreider can be 'elite player' for Rangers: Vigneault

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has one thought when he looks at forward Chris Kreider.

"I believe he can be an elite player in this league," Vigneault said. "He's got everything to become a dominant power forward in this league.

"It's his time to shine now."

Kreider isn't alone. There are at least three other forwards like him in New York, three other forwards that the Rangers need to be impact players in order to be a Stanley Cup contender again this season.

As much as the Rangers rely on their veterans -- mostly goalie Henrik Lundqvist -- Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast are now part of the fabric of this team, part of the core, and the expectations on them have never been higher.

"Coaches and management believe those people have more to give, more to bring to the table on a daily basis," Vigneault said. "We're going to give them the opportunity to deliver. Time will tell if we're right or not in making those assumptions."

Kreider is the face of the new core four. He scored 21 goals in 80 games last season. Vigneault told NHL.com last month that 30 is a reasonable expectation for him this season.

"Thirty-goal scorers average a certain number of shots, have a certain shooting percentage, are getting a certain number of Grade A chances from certain areas," Kreider said. "You can't say, 'Alright, I want to score X number of goals, I want X number of hits and shots per game, and I want to play this much' without developing the foundations, building blocks for your game."

That's why Kreider said he didn't set specific statistical goals for himself last season. Instead, he wanted focus on the process of becoming a better and smarter all-around player.

"It's details, thinking two or three steps ahead, positioning," he said. "I think I made some big strides."

To the point where Kreider now feels the foundation of his game is in place, that he knows what he wants to do and can do every time he goes into a game. That should, in theory, lead to greater production.

"It's his time to become one of the go-to guys on our team," Vigneault said.

Hayes, Miller and Fast are getting to that point too. They started to show signs of becoming impact players at different stages last season.

Hayes was a revelation because he surprisingly, and effectively, served as the Rangers' third-line center for most of his rookie season even though he played right wing the previous the previous three seasons at Boston College. His faceoff percentage was subpar (36.3 percent), but he scored 17 goals and had 45 points in 79 games.

Hayes could possibly move to right wing this season because the Rangers added center Jarret Stoll and lost right wing Martin St. Louis to retirement. Vigneault said he hasn't made a final decision on that yet.

"Last year was a culture change for me," Hayes said. "I was happy with what I did, happy to be here and happy to make the team, but this year I'm looking to be more a part of the team right from the start, to provide my team with a chance to win every night. Last year, I was just happy to be there and didn't want to make any mistakes."

Miller was maybe too happy to be with the Rangers last season and forgot about what he had to do to stay in New York.

He had a slow start and was sent down to Hartford of the American Hockey League after three games. There were questions about his work ethic. He admitted that he was guilty of taking games off, that he didn't bring it enough to warrant staying in the NHL.

Miller answered those questions after getting recalled in late November. He gradually improved and eventually moved into a top-six role for a short while late in the regular season and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had 23 points in 58 games, and another eight points in 19 playoff games.

Miller is expected to be at least a third-line forward at the start of this season, but the second-line is not out of the questions depending on where Vigneault slots Hayes.

Like Miller, Fast started last season with the Rangers, but he was sent back to Hartford after three games. He eventually got another chance and became a regular fourth-line forward in New York, improving enough as the season went along to become one of the Rangers' better two-way forwards by the time they were eliminated.

This season, Fast could wind up filling the role that Carl Hagelin (traded to the Anaheim Ducks) had as a third-line forward and top penalty-killer. He averaged 1:06 of shorthanded ice time per game last season.

"There's another young player that in our mind is just on the upswing," Vigneault said. "Whether you want to talk about him, Hayes, J.T. -- we've got a lot of guys right there in that age frame that are on the upswing, are getting better and should be able to contribute more."

But it's Kreider who is the fact of that group, the one with the highest expectations. Vigneault didn't mince his words about that on Friday.

"And that's not a bad thing," Kreider said.

---

View More