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Kreider could add offensive element to Rangers

by Dave Lozo

During Chris Kreider's postseason run that made him a household name in the five boroughs, the 21-year-old was asked if he had given any thought about where he would live in New York next season.

Some New York Rangers players choose to live in Manhattan, but some enjoy the quiet solitude of Westchester County, which is where the team's practice facility is located.

Kreider, without missing a beat, answered the question honestly and properly.

"I have to make the team next year first," he said.

Chris Kreider
Chris Kreider
Left Wing - NYR
Goals: 5 | Assists: 2 | Pts: 7
Shots: 29 | +/-: -4
In that answer lies the incredible potential for the 6-foot-3, 230-pound left wing who burst onto the scene during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs with five goals in 18 games. There's no reason to believe Kreider won't make the Rangers out of training camp; but without a lick of regular-season experience, struggles and perhaps a demotion to the American Hockey League aren't out of the question, either.

Kreider worked his way onto the first line with Brad Richards at times during the postseason while seeing most of his ice time on the second line next to Derek Stepan. However, there were also times when coach John Tortorella had Kreider on the bench in big spots, as the rookie's skills away from the puck needed some work.

"He has a knack," Tortorella said during the Eastern Conference Finals. "The puck follows him around. And he has a ways to go away from the puck, but he has a knack with that puck. And as we continue, especially when the season starts next year, I think that's when we'll certainly find more about him. But it's pretty exciting to see what he's doing as a kid coming right out of college."

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Kreider will likely open the season on the second line with Stepan and perhaps captain Ryan Callahan on the right wing. With Marian Gaborik recovering from injury, there's even a chance Kreider could find himself on the top line with Richards and Rick Nash.

Kreider's playoff numbers factored out over 82 games would give him about 23 goals and nine assists. With goals easier to come by during the regular season, those numbers could be even better. But if he falters early, it's not out of the realm of possibility he could be honing his craft with the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League when Gaborik returns from injury.

There was no bigger example of the dangers of having a rookie learn the game at the NHL level than Kreider's mistake during the Rangers' second-round series against the Washington Capitals. With the puck on his stick deep in his own end, Kreider blindly pushed it out toward the blue line. Waiting for it was Alex Ovechkin, who unleashed a one-timer that beat goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Whatever happens, entering the season Kreider is the wildest of wild cards and he'll need to improve in all areas to maintain Tortorella's trust.

"The last thing I want to do is settle in," Kreider said. "I don't want to get complacent, especially at this level. If I get complacent, next thing you know I'm a minus-2 and giving Ovechkin a one-timer in the slot. I have got to stay extremely focused, obviously. That's pro hockey, right?"

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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