GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Chris Kreider has heard the talk from fans and media about his regression last season and how he was hamstrung by former New York Rangers coach John Tortorella.
He doesn't agree with any of it.
"At the end of the day maybe I'm just near-sighted, but I think I improved and I think I learned a lot," Kreider said Monday when asked if he thinks he was held back by Tortorella's shot-blocking, defense-first system. "I come away happy with the experience."
And now he's ready to build on it under new Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who is using Kreider on a line with Brad Richards and Rick Nash early in the preseason as a way of giving him a chance to display what he's capable of when playing with offensive-minded players.
Chris Kreider won't blame anyone but himself for his struggles last season. All he's focused on is making the most of the opportunity new coach Alain Vigneault is giving him by putting him on a line with Rick Nash and Brad Richards. (Photo: Getty Images)
"Reality is he's one of the Rangers' high-end prospects," Vigneault said. "He's got size, skill. We want to give him every opportunity to show what he can do and I think by putting him with Brad and Rick we're certainly showing our hand a little bit here that you're going to get a good opportunity and let's see what you can do."
Vigneault already has an idea of the kind of power and strength Kreider has in his legs. He witnessed it on a YouTube video of Kreider jumping out of a pool and landing on his feet without using his hands or arms for balance or a push.
"You talk about power," Vigneault said, smiling and shaking his head. "I didn't want to hear a lot [when I was first hired] because I wanted to see and get a feel for myself, but there you have a young man that's full of potential. I think it's our job -- when I say ours I mean myself, my coaches, management and his -- to [help him] become the best player he can be. What that is I don't know right now, but any guy that can jump out of the pool like that has got a lot of power and a lot of strength. He's definitely got something to work with there."
That video was posted a year ago. Kreider said he's leaner and stronger now.
"Around me there's a lot of positive about this young man," Vigneault said. "Everybody seems to feel there's a lot of talent and a lot of potential and it's up to us to work together to get it out of him."
Kreider knows what's laid out before him.
"It's up to me to take advantage of the opportunity," he said.
He didn't do that last season, but did Tortorella give him a fair chance? Tortorella appeared to lose faith in Kreider early last season and didn't gain even a small measure of it back until it was too late.
"Throughout the year I thought I was growing and progressing," Kreider said.
The evidence suggests otherwise.
Kreider burst onto the scene in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when he had five goals, including two game-winners, and two assists to help the Rangers get to the Eastern Conference Final not long after he led Boston College to an NCAA championship. He was given a chance to play for the club's American Hockey League team, the Connecticut Whale, during the lockout, but struggled and couldn't regain his confidence when the NHL season started in January.
With the 48-game schedule squeezed into 99 days, Tortorella repeatedly talked about not having time to wait for players to come around. Kreider was front and center in that, so he was sent back to the AHL less than a month into the season.
He went back and forth from the AHL to the NHL until he was recalled in mid-April because of an injury to center Brian Boyle. He was playing mostly bottom-six minutes with the Rangers and never got a chance to showcase his skills on the power play or with players who could help get him the puck in scoring situations on a consistent basis.
Kreider played in six straight games with the Rangers to close the regular season, but it was in a fourth-line role and he averaged 10 shifts and just over eight minutes per game. He dressed in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Washington Capitals, played 8:23 and then not again until Game 6.
He was in the lineup but barely used until he scored the overtime winner in Game 4 against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Kreider played 16:52 in Game 5, but the Rangers lost and were eliminated. Tortorella was fired two days later.
He had three points in 23 NHL games and 23 points in 48 AHL games. Tortorella took heat for not putting Kreider in positions to succeed, but Kreider won't pin any blame on Tortorella for his topsy-turvy season.
"As I move forward I'm going to take away a lot from him as a coach," Kreider said of Tortorella. "He's obviously a very good coach, that's why he's coaching another team in the NHL. I think I learned a ton and that's pretty much all I can say about it. I definitely improved and progressed."
If that's the case then Kreider, who now is 22 years old, should have no trouble showing Vigneault he's ready for a full-time, top-six NHL role.
"So far what we've talked about, what we've gone over, definitely it's exciting stuff," Kreider said. "I'm really just anxious to play."
Vigneault is anxious to see it.