Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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Chris Kreider Discusses His Future Plans

There has been a lot of talk going on today about New York Rangers 2009 1st round pick Chris Kreider following his MVP performance to lead his Boston College Eagles to their second consecutive Beanpot Championship last night.  The results have given Rangers fans yet another reason to be excited about what the future holds for Kreider.  Coach John Tortorella spent time in his discussions with the media praising Chris and talking about how much he wants him with the Rangers organization to the point that they tried to convince him to turn pro last summer.  Based on all the questions and thoughts I was getting on the subject, I gave my thoughts on when Kreider should turn pro this afternoon.

The one person we had not really had input from on the topic was Chris Kreider himself.  Thanks to Andrew Gross that is no longer the case.  Over at Ranger Rants Gross has a series of quotes from Kreider on a number of subjects: his future plans; how he has been following the progress of the other young Rangers he knows; what he has improved in his game this season; what it means to him for the coach to speak so highly of him, and what it means to win the Beanpot.
From the quotes you get a sense of Kreider and you have to like how level headed he is with all the attention that he has gotten to this point.  The best quote for me in the conversation was this one:
So I asked Kreider whether he can envision himself successful in the NHL.
“I’d like to,” Kreider said. “It’s extremely difficult to do. Hopefully I do make it to that point. There will be a lot to improve on, obviously.”
In terms of Tortorella talking this afternoon about how much he wants him to turn pro this summer, I am not at all surprised because the coach will always want more options and more toys to play with.  However, the fact that Torts wants him to be a pro and work with him does not mean he is ready for the NHL.  It will be very interesting to see how it plays out this summer with Kreider's side making their determination and hopefully Gordie Clark being the one on the Rangers side that gives Chris an honest assessment of what is best for him long term.  It might not be popular to send him back to college, but whatever is best for Kreider in the long term will be what is best for the Rangers organization, so let us hope both sides keep the big picture in mind.
Be sure to head over to Rangers Rants to check out the rest of Andrew’s discussion with Chris.

Mailbag: Should Chris Kreider Be A Ranger For The Playoffs?

Jason asked: Should the Rangers sign Chris Kreider like they did with Tony Amonte to join the team for the playoffs?  He could be on the first line and really help our power play this season.
The simple answer to that is no, but let me expand my thoughts.
There is no debating the fact that 2009 1st round pick Chris Kreider is unquestionably the New York Rangers best prospect.  Being the best prospect for the Rangers comes with a level of expectations from this organizations tremendous fan base that a player can step into the NHL and be an impact player on their first day.  Efforts like last night’s MVP performance in the Beanpot Tournament championship game will only raise those expectations further; if that is possible.  I am not here to dampen the excitement over Kreider as he is the most skilled offensive prospect the Rangers have had in a long time.  What I do want to do is preach some patience with him and abort the discussion I am seeing this morning about how soon he should leave college and be a professional player.
Kreider played a brilliant game and he has a knack for doing so in the biggest games as he was huge in the Beanpot final last season as well, but those goals were only his 8th and 9th of the season, which is not a level of domination showing he is NHL ready.  Taking a little perspective, when Amonte was signed for the playoffs his numbers that season at Boston University were 31 goals, 37 assists in 38 games.  Kreider this season has 9 goals, 11 assists in 26 games.
Excitement mixed with impatience is a natural state with Rangers fans.  There is a lot to be excited about with Kreider, but there are also signs that fans need to take note of and take a step back to see where he actually is in his development.  In both seasons Kreider has had slow starts in which it has taken him a month or more to really get into the season.  If he signed with the Rangers and did that he would be getting the kind of treatment that Michael Del Zotto and Evgeny Grachev are receiving right now. 

Kreider will tell you when he is ready, not with words or signing a contract, but when he truly begins to dominate his level of competition, which he has yet to do.  The domination standard is one that Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark believes in holding the prospects to before advancing them.  Kreider has shown that he can dominate within an individual game, but has not shown it over longer stretches.  Maybe he will have another phenomenal close to the season and show there is nothing left for him to gain from another season in college, but to this point I am not convinced that giving him another year to develop and more importantly “be the man” at Boston College would not be better for him long term.  I would rather they wait too long than make the mistake of rushing another prospect because Kreider will eventually be the Rangers first line left wing and a crucial component to the power play as long as they let him go through the stages of development at his pace.

Do yourself a favor and check out The Prospect Park's take on Kreiders performance last night and his future.

Sauer Steadily Climbing Rangers Defensive Ranks

Photo brought to you by DigDeepNYR
The New York Rangers knew what they had in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi as a shutdown pair to anchor their defense for the 2010-11 season.  What the team did not know when training camp started was the a pair of rookies, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer, would combine to give the team a second set of shutdown defenders to roll out against any team.  It is in large part because of the play of these two that I believe that the Rangers do not need to go with the conventional wisdom and trade for a veteran defender just because the group is young and might lack NHL experience as a whole.  Today in part one of the mini-series on the Rangers defense I am going to take a look at Rookie Michael Sauer.
Michael Sauer, was sort of a forgotten prospect, having been taken in the second round of the 2005 draft.  For those who do not remember, the pick that was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Brian Leetch trade.  Part of the reason that Sauer was forgotten or at least overlooked coming into the year was his injury history that has hampered his development at times and the fact that he did not fit the mold of what was thought of as a John Tortorella type defender.  A combination of a more defensive shift in the system and, quite frankly, the waiver system gave Michael Sauer a chance in training camp to earn a spot on the team.  Sauer did not let the opportunity go to waste.
Sauer earned a spot on the opening day roster and while initially part of a rotation system with Matt Gilroy and Steve Eminger, but it did not take long for Sauer’s solid play to solidify his spot in the lineup as a regular.  Over the course of the season Sauer, just like his steady play, has steadily worked his way up the depth chart.  At the moment he is paired with fellow rookie Ryan McDonagh to form the team’s second pair.  Sauer also showed before the break, while Dan Girardi was out with his rib injury, that he is more than capable of playing on the team’s top defensive pair alongside All-Star Marc Staal.
Statistically speaking Michael Sauer is not the kind of defenseman that will get to All-Star game or any accolades, but neither is a guy like Brooks Orpik, and we all know what a shutdown defensive defender can mean to a team.  On the season Sauer has one goal, five assists and playing at a plus eight while logging an average of 16:11 in 52 games this season.  Sauer’s ice time has steadily climbed throughout the year as he has gained the trust of the coaching staff and earned promotions through the defensive ranks.  In October he was averaging only 11 minutes a game.  His ice time rose to 14 minutes a night during November and December.  It has taken off to another level in January and February with the rookie defenseman logging 19:30 a game.  So, what can you expect to find when you watch Sauer?
What you have to love about Sauer is the way he goes about his business.  There is no flash.  There is no pretense.  There is just tremendous defensive awareness, positioning and attention to the basics.  Add to that a man who loves to hit, clears the crease and fights to defend himself and his teammates and you get a keeper; you get Michael Sauer. 
Those things show themselves in different situations in the game.  You notice more and more each game with how his stick-checking improves both in the zone and against the rush.  What you also see is how well he does in standing up at the blue line to prevent a clean rush into the Rangers defensive zone.  On the offensive side of the puck you notice how well he reads the play in terms of when to pinch to keep a play alive as well as when to step up in the neutral zone and close the gap.  All of these things speak to the intelligence and instincts with which Sauer carries himself.  One thing that I know John Tortorella loves as much as what Sauer does on the ice is that way he carries himself, in that, there is never a sense of fear for Sauer no matter who they pair him with or who they match him against.
The questions I had about Sauer coming into this year were never about his talent or his ability to play at the NHL level.  The issues always revolved around his ability to stay healthy and whether this particular system would fit him.  To this point, Sauer has proven more than up to the task in both departments and is cementing himself as a key part of the Rangers defense not only this year, but a priority to sign this summer, so he can bring what he does for years to come.  Welcome to the core Michael Sauer, the Department of Defense is happy to have you.
*Want to give a big thank you to Mike Murphy aka DigDeep for the photo you see at the top of the post.  You can find Dig at that twitter page linked, as well as Blueshirt Banter.