Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rangers Propsect Chris Kreider: Another Slow Start, Another Huge Finish?

Elsa/Getty Images
Yesterday in talking about the New York Rangers team I talked about patterns of performance that are evident when they play, and apparently top prospect Chris Kreider has a history of repeating patterns as well.  Kreider the 2009 1st round pick started his sophomore year slowly just like in his Freshman campaign, but he has been to heat up and is percolating after last night’s game against rival Boston University.  We are going to look back on Kreider to see why at times he has made Rangers fans nervous, including myself, but more importantly why he has proven over his time since the draft that a slow start should not worry us just as a different New Yorker in another sport seems to do each year.
When Chris Kreider was drafted just over 17 months ago I was not completely sold on the pick, but I reserved judgment because it was who Gordie Clark wanted.  The reason for not being sold on the pick was because in every scouting report I had read the concern was about the level of competition he had played against in high school and whether he would be able to translate his prowess against higher levels.  The biggest strength according to those reports was about his tremendous speed and here I was jaded by Rangers drafts of the past picturing a combination of Lauri Korpiskoski and soon to be ex Ranger Freddie Sjostrom as fast guys that never developed a finish if you pardon the pun. 

Early in his Freshman season Chris Kreider did little assuage the doubters and scared the supporters of the pick by starting his college career at Boston College with only 2 goals and 3 assists in his first 15 games.  Many of the early reports on Kreider were that he was doing the right things and creating plenty of chances just not finishing them off, which was seen as positive and negative depending on the person you were talking to.  After that start he went off to be part of team USA U-20 World Junior Championship team with fellow Rangers Derek Stepan and Ryan Bourque. 

The team would eventually beat Canada in a classic final to win the gold medal, but for BC Eagles fans and New York Rangers fans the tournament was much more valuable long term than just the end result.  In the tournament Kreider would find his scoring touch netting six goals in the seven games including a hat-trick in one of the preliminary round games.  The tournament would show Kreider another style of play to use his talents instead of relying on his speed alone to use his size and strength as well, whether it be hitting or going to the front of the net.  That is not to say that his speed was not on display as he had a couple of penalty shots during the tournament and showed truly explosive skating ability all tournament long.

Kreider would carry the new found confidence and knowledge back Boston College for the second half of the season and he would play like a man possessed.  In 23 games during the second half of the year Kreider would net 13 goals and have 5 assists to end his Freshman season with a very respectable 23 points in 38 games.  More than just the pure numbers the impressive thing for Chris in the second half is the importance of some of the goals he was scoring for his hockey club with two game winners.  The Eagles would go on to the win the national championship and Kreider would go on to play in the World Championship for team USA with Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Gilroy and would fare well with a goal an assist and a +3 for the tournament.

A season that started slowed, lit up and finished strong would be a springboard to Kreider being named the 22nd highest rated prospect in the NHL and speculation over the summer that the Rangers wanted Chris to leave BC and turn professional.  Kreider would go back to BC this fall as the number one ranked Rangers prospect according to Hockey’s Future with huge expectations based on his finish the year before and those rankings.  Once again what we saw was another slow start where Kreider was scoreless in his first five games of the season and the questions started again about what was wrong with Kreider.

Well, after last night’s career high 3 point night (1G, 2A) Kreider is now sitting on 4 goals and 6 assists in 15 games this season.  The numbers are still somewhat modest compared to the expectations coming into the season, but 10 points in his last 10 games is nothing to discount and when you compare it to last year where he had half as many goals, assists and points in the same number of games you might actually feel really good.  Tonight Kreider and his teammates will take on Boston University once again and it will mark the last game before the holiday break for some, but for Kreider it will be the last game before he goes back to where his turnaround started a season ago the U-20 World Junior Championships where he will have some of last year’s team including Ryan Bourque waiting for him to try and win it again.

This all leads me to a rather unnatural comparison of players between hockey and baseball where the pattern for Kreider is starting to remind me of another player in New York though that one wears pinstripes. Each year Teixeira hits like garbage for April and sometimes into May, then will get red hot for most of the rest of the year and by the time all is said and done his numbers are where they are expected to be.  The parallel comes partially for being a follower of the team in the Bronx, partially the New York connection, and partially because I could not think of a hockey player who consistently starts slow and still has great years.  Let us hope that like the hated Sox wish they had Teix the hated Bruins will wish they had Kreider because Lord knows the rival Terriers are tired of seeing him as an Eagle.

The obvious hope is that Kreider will play as well in the WJC this year as he did last and the second half will be similar as well meaning that by the end of the year despite the slow start once again the numbers will end up right where they were expected to be.  It goes without saying that Kreider will need that huge second half and a raising of his game if he hopes to get a contract to be a Ranger next year and leave BC.  Obviously baseball and hockey are not comparable but the Rangers will be expecting Chris Kreider to be a homerun in his own right.  So far Chris has done his best to take the strikeout off the table and is looking like at the very least a solid double and I certainly will not be betting against him, just look at all the hardware he has collected in the last 12 months.

Kreider and his BC teammates will take on their arch-rivals the Boston University Terriers again tonight (12/4) at 7:30 pm on CBS College Sports channel
Update: Kreider would continue his improving play by scoring a beautiful shorthanded goal in BC's second straight win over BU.