For years, Chris Kreider has been a tease with tools: Impressive speed, strength, size, blistering shot, but somehow never quite together enough to break through the door marked “Elite.”
A recommitted Kreider, who is just 25 and signed a four-year contract extension with the Rangers this past summer, showed glimpses of the player he should be — and the coaching staff hopes he can be — in a strong performance in the 5-3 defeat of the Islanders in the season-opener for both teams on Thursday.
“Everybody knows Kreids, conditioning is never an issue,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “I think he just came in here with the right attitude and he’s playing to his strengths. That’s being a power forward, using his speed when he has the puck . . . and on the forecheck to create a turnover. Power forwards have to go to the tough areas and we saw that tonight.”
With the Rangers coughing up a 2-0 lead in the first 4:04 of the third period, as the Isles scored twice, Kreider took the reins. He gloved down a pass at the blue line from Pavel Buchnevich, sped past Travis Hamonic and deked Jaroslav Halak with a backhander to restore the lead. On a power play about six minutes later, he fed Brandon Pirri for a one-timer that extended the margin to 4-2.
“It’s going to be a key going forward,” said Kreider, who finished with a career-high seven shots on goal and four hits in 16:11. “Do the things I do well and don’t get away from it. The game was a little helter-skelter early, so it was kind of hard to get into the flow were you’re forechecking. As it went on, I felt like I did a better job of getting my feet moving and finishing my checks.”
His linemates, center Mika Zibanejad (two assists, named third star of the night and won 60 percent of his faceoffs) and Pavel Buchnevich (one assist), may be right fits, but Kreider knows he must stick to his game.
“I can speak all day about the guys I’m playing with because they’re incredible,” said Kreider, who has scored 21 goals in each of the past two seasons. “They make some ridiculous plays. But at the same time, regardless of who I play with, I can play the same way.”