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Kreider eager to take on bigger role for Rangers after blood-clot scare

Forward focused on leadership, has new appreciation of career

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Chris Kreider turned up the ice and turned on the jets the way he's done so often in his NHL career.

The 27-year-old powerful left wing for the New York Rangers started inside his own blue line, blew past defenders, skated through the attacking left circle before anyone else got into it, and one-timed a pristine saucer pass from Mika Zibanejad past New Jersey Devils goalie Eddie Lack for his first goal of the preseason.

This was 31 seconds into the third period of the Rangers' 4-3 overtime win at Madison Square Garden on Monday. It was vintage Kreider, who wasn't breathing hard as he skated to the bench after scoring. He wasn't winded or worried. He was normal.

"It's crazy what two working lungs will do," Kreider said.

Kreider didn't have both lungs working at full capacity for most of last season.

Video: NJD@NYR: Kreider roofs a nice goal over Lack

A pulmonary embolism discovered in his lungs was the reason why he felt short of breath and unable to take shifts longer than 30 seconds when he was playing in the first half of the season.

Recovering after shifts, no matter the length, was difficult. He thought he was out of shape, so he tried to compensate in the gym and that only made things worse. Kreider didn't know what to say to teammates who expected and needed more out of him.

"I had other left wingers, [Michael] Grabner and [Rick] Nash, they were like, 'Dude, you've got to take longer shifts, you're coming off too early,' " Kreider said. "I was like, 'Honestly, I can't.' … I couldn't breathe."

His symptoms, which included coughing up blood, eventually led to the diagnosis of a blood clot in his right arm and to surgery to remove a portion of his rib in early January to improve blood flow to his lungs.

Kreider returned less than two months after his surgery, Feb. 23, against the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden. He was lighter by about 20 pounds, down to 215. He could breathe and recover. He could blow past defensemen. He could put fear into goalies.

Only now he was doing it with a newfound appreciation for what he gets to do for a living.

Video: Rangers are named No. 7 in Prospect Pipeline

The Rangers had faded out of the Stanley Cup Playoff race and became a losing team entering a rebuilding project, but Kreider was the happiest guy in the room.

"There was everything the team was going through and I'm walking around with a grin on my face like, 'Man, this is awesome, I'm playing in the NHL, I'm living my dream,' " Kreider said. "Yeah, I want to win, but I got a gift. I got to step out of the maze and see how awesome this is."

Kreider's outlook on his career is the same now as it was then. The difference is he's entering this season as one of the Rangers' oldest forwards (Mats Zuccarello, 31, is the only projected top-nine forward older than Kreider) and they're counting on him to be a leader after years of being led.

"I definitely think I've got my best hockey ahead of me," Kreider said.

His performance after returning to the lineup last season could be an indication Kreider is on to something.

With his speed and wind back, Kreider again looked like the power forward with the physical gifts that has struck fear into opponents, especially goalies.

He had 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 21 games from Feb. 23 to the end of the season, a 58-point pace for an 82-game season. He had 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 37 games before surgery, a 48-point pace.

He was aggressive on the forecheck, the old pin your ears back and go approach. He was hard on the puck, physical all over, a demon darting out of corners and to the front of the net.

"How you generate chances in the NHL is you've got to force turnovers, and if you're not able to in shape or you can't breathe it's pretty hard to do," Kreider said. "Being able to get on top of an opponent was very helpful so we had pucks more and we were generating chances."

Rangers coach David Quinn, in his first season, said the coaching staff is working with Kreider to add penalty killing to his repertoire.

"I feel with his speed, I know if I was on the power play and I saw him coming at me Mach 10 it would make me a little bit uncomfortable, not just up ice but even in zone, loose pucks and stuff like that," Quinn said.

"I think he's trying to make the next step to be a well-rounded player. That's something that he's talked about with us. We certainly feel with his physical skills he's got the ability to do that."

It should have no bearing on Quinn's decision that Kreider has played a total of 7:43 of shorthanded ice time in his 458 career NHL games, including playoffs. Quinn could see the PK as an opportunity to get Kreider on the ice more.

Kreider craves it. After what he went through last season, he also appreciates it more than ever.

"I want to be hard to play against," Kreider said. "I want people to look at the schedule and say, 'Man, I hope we don't match up against his line because I don't want to play against him.' "

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