Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider have had a pretty good thing going for quite some time. Now that twosome is looking to build chemistry with a new linemate heading into the 2015-16 season, and the Rangers are seeking a second productive line to go along with the Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello trio.
"It's funny, since Day One Chris and I have played together, and that's not an exaggeration, and we've built up some good chemistry," Stepan told BlueshirtsUnited.com following Saturday's practice. "I think when you construct lines and you have some chemistry--me and Kreids, Brass and Zucc--it makes it easier to find that third piece because if two guys are on the same page then it's easier for that third guy to get on the same page."
Martin St. Louis spent nearly all of last season on the right side of Stepan and Kreider, and during training camp this fall J.T. Miller was given the first crack at playing with that duo following the retirement of St. Louis. However it now appears that Kevin Hayes, the team's third-line center last season, will open up the regular season playing right wing on Stepan's line.
"I've liked them at practice and in games since we put them together," head coach Alain Vigneault said of Kreider, Stepan and Hayes. "I think a guy like Chris Kreider can become a force in this league; and him and Step have some real solid chemistry there. Stepan has proven over the past few years that he's a quality two-way player. And now I've decided to Kevin Hayes a chance there--a smart player who's played that position before and is comfortable with it. On that line you have size, speed, good hockey sense. So we'll give it some time to see if we can build it into a solid effective line for us."
Stepan, who said that his on-ice rapport with Kreider derives, in a way, from them being opposites--"I like to slow things down and Chris likes to go..we use each other extremely well", is excited about what Hayes can add to the line following a rookie season in which Hayes recorded 45 points.
"I think knowing he's going to be a winger for now at least, he is going to be able to focus on how he'll mold together with me and Chris," explained Stepan. "He has all the tools, there's no secret there, he's a heckuva' player. He knows the game, he sees the game, he can make plays on his own--which is very similar to a Rick Nash when me, Kreids and Nasher played together. He's fitting in nicely here."
All involved, including the coach, understands there needs to be some time to build the chemistry which Hayes, Stepan and Kreider all aspire to create together, but all are excited at the prospects of having those three young, talented, U.S.-born forwards playing together.
"That line has some real potential," noted Vigneault.
The first real test comes Wednesday in Chicago when the Rangers drop the puck on a new season.