With only 11 goals scored through their first seven games, the Rangers need a jolt of offensive energy, especially among their Top Six group of forwards where Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin are all sidelined with injuries and others not named Brad Richards have struggled to find the back of the net so far this season.
Enter Chris Kreider, with the size, speed, skill, and potential to fill that Top Six role. Recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack on Sunday, the 22 year-old Kreider will be given a legitimate whack at helping cure the Rangers offensive ills when the team plays its next game Thursday night in Philadelphia.
"I'd like to think I can play any role that they need me to," Kreider told reporters Monday after practice at the MSG Training Center. "I think that's the concept of being a team player, filling whatever role they need you to fill. I'm going to try and play my game, try to use my best assets, get to the net, shoot pucks, play simple."
Kreider has been asked to fill many roles since turning pro following his Junior year at Boston College two springs ago, but he has yet to earn the confidence of his coaches to consistently be given Top Six minutes his offensive pedigree would seem to indicate. Even on Monday Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault termed Kreider's training camp and pre-season---where he played often with elite skill players Nash and Richards---as "average".
With the team missing three key forwards and far from firing on all cylinders offensively, Kreider will be given the opportunity he quietly craves.
"With the players we have out, that's what we need (Top Six role) from him right now," Vigneault said of Kreider after practice. "He went to Hartford and he worked real hard and played some good minutes for them. Hopefully he can come in and do the same thing for us."
Kreider scored a pair of goals and added two assists in six games with the Wolf Pack prior to his recall from the minors. A year ago, his first professional season, Kreider bounced between the minor leagues and the NHL---totaling two goals and three points in 23 games with the Rangers and 12 goals and 23 points in 48 games with the Connecticut Whale.
After a slow start in 2012-13 Kreider finished the season strong with the Whale, and then scored the clutch overtime winner against the Boston Bruins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the Rangers. Of course Kreider, a member of two NCAA Championship winning teams at BC and a Gold Medalist for Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championships, is still remembered for his incredible run in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he scored five goals and totaled seven points in 18 games fresh out of college.
When asked Monday what the difference is in his game now compared to last season, Kreider had a quick reply.
"I think I'm healthy now," Kreider responded, referring to his near season-long ankle woes last season.
Vigneault did note that he thought Kreider looked "real quick, real sharp" during practice where he skated on a line with Richards and Derek Stepan, the team's two leading scorers, so far. Kreider is excited about the prospect of being on the ice with Richards, with whom he has had some chemistry in the recent past.
"It doesn't matter who he plays with he's going to make them better, and that person is going to learn from him," Kreider said of Richards, who is 4-3-7 on the season. "He knows so much. I was lucky enough to lift with him at the end of the summer and kind of pick his brain a little bit, and just from being around him it defintely has helped me, helped bring me along."
Richards right now is one of only two forwards in the Rangers lineup to have scored a goal this season. Derek Dorsett, who scored against San Jose, has one goal, while Richards has four. That means a lot of other forwards are still searching for that first goal, and several---like Mats Zuccarello, Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt, and J.T. Miller among them---are still searching for their first point of the season, too.
Here's how the Rangers lined up at Monday's practice: