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Chris Kreider praised by Rangers coach Alain Vigneault

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider looks

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider looks on in the third period against Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden on April 4, 2015. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- In comments designed to praise and motivate, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault on Friday turned a spotlight on left wing Chris Kreider, who scored 21 goals and 25 assists last season and seven goals in the playoffs, saying he has the tools to excel.

"I look at Chris Kreider and I believe he can be an elite player in this league," Vigneault said after players participated in on-ice testing before formal practices begin Saturday. "He's got everything to become a dominant power forward. He's had almost two full years of development under his belt ... and clearly, he's taken strides. It's his time to shine, to become one of the go-to guys on our team."

The Rangers have Kreider penciled in as Derek Stepan's winger, with the right side spot to be determined.

With an impressive season, the 24-year-old Boston College alum, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, can easily double his earnings. His cap charge this season is $2.475 million.

Staal had ligament damage, too

Turns out that when doctors opened Marc Staal's left ankle in the offseason to remove a bone chip, they found a detached ligament, and the defenseman was in a walking boot for four weeks. The timing couldn't have been worse, because the Staal family was moving from Manhattan to Riverside, Connecticut.

Staal said Friday that the injury occurred when he was struck with a shot while crossing in front of the net against Carolina on March 21, and played through it. "There's no pain, but it's still a little weak," he said. He won't do on-ice testing until next week, and will wear a plastic, molded skate guard when he dresses for preseason games.

Salaries could cap defensemen

With the Rangers juggling to fit salaries under the cap, Vigneault said it doesn't appear the team will be able to carry eight defensemen. "I'm not sure we're going to be able to do that, money-wise," he said.

So Dylan McIlrath, drafted 10th overall in 2010, is at somewhat of a crossroads in New York.

"The feedback that I received from the Hartford coaching staff at end of the year, he was matched up against all the top lines and he was the top penalty-killer," said Vigneault. "We all know the toughness part, we need to see if he can play at this level. Can he play against the third and fourth lines of other teams and be a dependable, physical, safe defenseman? That's what we need to find out. The way we play, you have to be able to have a tight gap ... but when you go back for the puck, you've got to be able to make that initial pass, not always off the glass, so we can have a transition game. From what I've seen so far, he's looked very good."

Blue Notes

Saturday and Sunday's practices will be divided into three groups, with media members getting the first look at lines and defense pairings for Monday's exhibition opener at Madison Square Garden against the Devils ... The possibility of carrying 14 rather than 13 forwards has not yet been discussed with general manager Jeff Gorton, Vigneault said ... The Rangers' blue training camp t-shirts read: "Work to Perfection/Reach New Heights," with an outline of the Stanley Cup on one edge ... Chris Drury, the team's new director of player development, was at the rink for meetings to discuss his travel schedule and said he expects to be around New York during the season.

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