New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider is hungry for more.
The Rangers have made three trips to the Eastern Conference Final in four seasons, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2014. But the Stanley Cup has eluded Kreider and the Rangers, and that's not lost on the 24-year-old about to enter his third full season in the NHL.
"You know me, I'm always hungry, figuratively and literally," Kreider said in video posted by BlueshirtsUnited.com during a recent visit to Rangers Youth Hockey Camp. "You get a taste of that and when you're seeing a team on the other side, whether it be the conference final or the Stanley Cup Final, hoisting that trophy or celebrating … you want it that much more."
The Rangers will have a new look entering this season. Martin St. Louis retired, Carl Hagelin was traded to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem, and Viktor Stalberg and Raphael Diaz were among the free agents brought on board. Yet the core group remains intact, which leaves Kreider optimistic about New York's chances.
"You hear guys talk about how [difficult] it is to win Stanley Cups, but I think there's an equally hard and demanding kind of feeling that kind of induces that hunger and that drive when it comes to losing," Kreider said. "You don't want to lose and it wears on you, so I think this group is poised to do some big things next year."
One season after losing the Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings in five games, the Rangers put together the finest campaign in their history by winning 53 games and capturing the Presidents' Trophy. Tabbed by many to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994, New York lost the conference final in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"The year before there's definitely a sense of accomplishment," Kreider said. "I'm not sure if we were favored to do as well as we did. This year though, it was a different feeling. Obviously expectations were higher and the pressure was there. Whether or not we didn't close out a series early on, or we left a game on the table here or there, there wasn't that same feeling. We still accomplished a whole lot but I think there's still a whole lot this group can do, so I think people are going to be really excited going into next year."
Kreider scored 21 goals with 25 assists, 46 points and a plus-24 rating, all career highs, in 80 games last season. More is annually expected from the Rangers' first-round pick (No. 19) in the 2009 NHL Draft, and whether Kreider is deployed on New York's top line or plays on the All-American line with Derek Stepan and J.T. Miller is one of the storylines headed into training camp in September.
"That's more for the coaches to decide, but I don't think it's going to different from the role that I played last year," Kreider said. "I think it just comes down to me asserting myself and being a little more consistent with my own game."
Last month, Kreider joined Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes and Hagelin for a charity game in Zuccarello's native Norway. It was the first time Zuccarello played in a game since sustaining a brain contusion and hairline fracture of his skull in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round that sidelined him for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The injuries left Zuccarello without feeling in his arm and unable to speak for four days.
"He's doing really well, obviously," Kreider said. "He bounced back in incredible fashion.
"It was scary. There really is no other word to describe it; just the sound that it made, obviously, when it hit his helmet. Seeing him come off the ice and seeing some of the symptoms he displayed … it was scary but a pretty good representation of how tight knit our team is. Everyone kind of rallied around him. At the end of the day he's OK and that's all that really matters. It was a tough sequence of events, but we're just happy he's feeling OK."
Zuccarello rejoined the Rangers during the Eastern Conference Final, skating in a limited capacity.
"He's such a big part of our group, such a staple in our room," Kreider said. "When he's around people are in better spirits. Obviously we're a better team with him in our lineup, but even just having him around, it was great."