Chris Kreider was always grateful for the opportunity to play the game he loves for a living. But those feelings are a little fuller following a blood clot that has sidelined him since Dec. 27 and that required surgery to repair.
Early on following the clot's discovery and ultimate remedy, the focus for Kreider went beyond hockey. Injuries are certainly part of the sport, but one as serious as what Kreider was facing put the game on the back-burner.
"It really puts things in perspective," said Kreider after skating with his teammates for the first time on Wednesday in a non-contact practice jersey. "I don't think I took [playing hockey] for granted ever, but it definitely makes you grateful for everything you have."
Kreider said he was born with his first rib fused to his second rib, which pushed everything out of place and led him to having a "wonky looking collar bone my whole life." That abnormality eventually contributed to the clot, which was operated on on Jan. 7.
"I didn't ever think it was going to be a problem," Kreider said, "but obviously it was."
With the injury behind him, Kreider can now look ahead to getting back into the Rangers lineup, something he vowed to do before the end of the season.
Friday was the first step, and despite it being a short practice after the team arrived from Minnesota,as well as Kreider taking playing the role of a scout team penalty killer, it was good to just be back around his teammates.
"It feels like I haven't practiced with the team for a while, but I felt OK," said Kreider. At this stage in his recovery, he said it's a day-by-day approach in conjunction with advice from the team's medical staff and doctors, whom Kreider praised in their guidance following the injury.
Video: Chris Kreider on his return to practice
Coach Alain Vigneault took a similar approach when asked about a possible road map to getting Kreider, who had 11 goals and 11 assists in 37 games prior to the injury, back in the lineup.
Vigneault said the biggest focus for Kreider - outside of his health - is his conditioning after being out for all but one period since Dec. 23.
"We're looking at definitely game conditioning and conditioning," Vigneault said. "I don't know if we're talking two weeks, if we're talking a month, but the docs and him will evaluate this on a daily basis and keep plugging and hopefully he can join us at some point in the future."
That's all part of the process, one that's given Kreider a new look on things, even if the previous one wasn't bad.
"It grants you a bit of a different perspective and kind of forces you to be grateful," he said. "Not that I wasn't before, but I'm just happy to be out there."