GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Chris Kreider has gone from college hockey star to NHL playoff wunderkind to potentially major disappointment to someone the Rangers are looking to for a spark.
All in the span of two short years.
Still only 22, Kreider was called up by the Rangers on Sunday and skated in his first practice with the team Monday. With Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin injured, the Rangers (2-5-0, 11 goals) need someone to score on their top lines and power play beginning with their next game Thursday in Philadelphia.
Re-enter Kreider, the 19th overall pick in the 2009 draft, who had two goals and two assists in six games for Hartford (AHL) after what Rangers coach Alain Vigneault called an "average" training camp.
Kreider, who still is an NHL rookie, won two college hockey championships with Boston College before starring for the Rangers in the 2011-12 playoffs in his NHL debut. He holds the records for most playoff goals (five) and points (seven) before playing in a regular-season game.
But last season was a dud for the 6-3, 226-pound left wing. Slowed by a foot injury, he had two goals and one assist in 23 games for the Rangers. The coaching switch from John Tortorella to Vigneault was supposed to help unlock Kreider's speed and strength combination, but the Boxford, Mass., native did not force his way on to the opening-night roster.
Now he's back. Not so much because of what he did with Hartford but because the Rangers have a need that Kreider seems to have the skills to fill. He skated Monday with Derek Stepan and Brad Richards.
"I think right now with our team, with the players that we have out, that's what we need right now," Vigneault said. "We've got three of our top six forwards out, and even though his training camp might have been more on the average side, that's behind us. He went to Hartford, he worked real hard and played some good minutes for them. Hopefully, he can come in and do the same thing for us."
Kreider's one shining moment last season came when he scored the game-winner in overtime in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston. But the Rangers wanted him to play top-six minutes at Hartford to open this season rather than get inconsistent time in the NHL.
"It's hockey," Kreider said. "Hopefully, the more you play, the better you get. Regardless of where I was, I was going to bring the same energy to the rink every day. I was happy to be there and happy to be able to play hockey."
Notes & quotes: Struggling Henrik Lundqvist took Monday off to rest. "Hank's one of our top players and is definitely a leader and a force on this team," Vigneault said. "When you struggle, whether it be on a personal note or a team note, a lot of times you let those guys work it out. Hank's battling right now . . . I would say it's a safe bet to say he's going to find his groove." . . . A team spokesman said there's "nothing new" with Nash (concussion).