One day after declaring that Chris Kreider and a group of other younger players need to step up this season for the Rangers, the team's head coach Alain Vigneault spoke more at length about Kreider and his impressive skill-set Friday at the MSG Training Center.
"I look at Chris Kreider and I believe that he can be an elite player in this league," stated Vigneault. "He's got everything to become a dominant power forward. He's got almost two full years (in the NHL) under his belt, and he's been improving, making strides, and it's time to shine now. It's his time to become one of the go-to guys on the team now."
The 24 year-old Kreider, who owns a chiseled 6-foot-3, 230 pound frame and world-class skating ability, appeared in 80 games last season and established career-highs with 21 goals, 25 assists, 46 points, seven power play tallies, five game-winning goals, 88 penalty minutes and a +24 plus/minus rating. He added another seven goals--two of them game-winners--over 19 playoff games last spring.
Many hockey pundits have Kreider penciled in for his first 30-goal season in 2015-16; and it's clear that without putting any numbers into the equation that Vigneault also believes Kreider's production is capable of increasing significantly this season.
Kreider, the Rangers' first-round selection in the 2009 NHL Draft, played much of last season on a line centered by Derek Stepan, though he has also skated for stretches of his career with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. No matter which line he ends up on this season, Kreider clearly is an extremely valuable top-six forward for the Blueshirts in the eyes of his head coach.
Vigneault continued to challenge the other youngsters on the team Friday, as well---players like Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Lindberg.
"We expect more from those guys," Vigneault said in a very direct manner. "We believe those players have more to give on a daily basis. I look at our team right now, similar to how it was last year, and we're hoping some of those guys are going to be able to deliver, and we'll give them that opportunity. Time will tell if we were right in making those assumptions."
The players underwent rigorous on-ice conditioning tests Friday, with veteran forward Viktor Stalberg admitting afterwards that his legs were burning after the high-paced 25-minute evaluations.
There were three separate groups tested. The defensemen in camp went first at 9:00 AM, though Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi did not take part--their testing will come sometime next week. The forwards went next at 11:30, and the team's young prospects did their testing at 2:00 PM.
"It was an important day for us," said Vigneault. "I think it's an important step. This gives you the scientific proof that they have worked out (during the summer) and how well they worked out and who's improved since last year."
Rookie defenseman Brady Skjei, the team's first round selection in the 2012 draft, told BlueshirtsUnited.com that it was important to him to make a positive first impression on the coaches and management during the testing on Friday.
"This is a good test for them to see who's been skating seriously in the summer and shows how hard guys work," offered Skjei, whose smooth-skating stood out during the testing. "When it gets down to that fifth and sixth lap you get pretty tired, so they can see how hard you're trying and pushing yourself."
Fellow rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath, the team's top pick in 2010, also looked very good during the testing, and afterwards Vigneault had positive words about the rugged 6-foot-6 McIlrath.
"Everything (Hartford Wolf Pack coaches Ken Gernander and Jeff Beukeboom) have told me, they are adament that from Christmas last year there were the biggest strides he has made since being in the American League," Vigneault said of McIlrath. "From what I've seen so far in camp and in the gym and the (pre-camp) practices with his teammates he's looked very good."
Last week McIlrath told BlueshirtsUnited.com that this will be the most important training camp of his career and that he understands the "clock is ticking" on reaching the National Hockey League.
"We all know the toughness part, we need to see if he can play at this level," Vigneault said of McIlrath. "Can he play against other team's third and fourth lines and can he be a dependable, physical, safe defenseman. That's what we need to find out during training camp."