Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
Last April, the Rangers entered their first-round series versus the Ottawa Senators with one problem: scoring goals.
Luckily for the Rangers, general manager Glen Sather was able to sign college hockey star Chris Kreider to an entry-level deal fresh off a national championship with Boston College.
After sitting out the first two games of the series, Kreider finally made his debut in Game 3 in Ottawa. From then on he impressed, enough to remain in the lineup for the remainder of the playoffs. When it was all said and done, Kreider registered five goals and two assists in 18 games.
Not too bad for a kid who jumped right into the most grueling and intense hockey on the planet, the NHL Playoffs.
So how was he able to do it? And why has he struggled so much this season?
Last April he literally just jumped right in. He’d never worked with Torts or the Rangers before and he wasn't familiar with the system; he just went out there skated hard and took advantage of a sublime opportunity.
Torts even insisted he wasn't going to barrage the youngster with systematic jargon because he just wanted Kreider to go out and play.
But for whatever reason, Kreider struggled to find his footing in his first pro season, which began in Connecticut where he laced up for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate the Whale. In 34 games, he only scored five goals and 12 points.
Any hockey person would tell you a dropoff such as that is probably mental. He may have thought going from the NHL Playoffs to the AHL would be a breeze, found out it wasn't and struggled before he began doubting himself.
Of course this is all speculation.
When the NHL lockout finally did come to an end and training camp began, Kreider was one of only two players from Connecticut invited to camp, Matt Gilroy being the other.
It’s safe to say what’s happened since then is somewhat of a disaster. He suffered an injury early in the season, while his two reassignments back to Connecticut are just two more setbacks in a season that’s seen him scratched by Tortorella on several occasions.
He’s appeared in 11 games and only has a goal and an assist to show for it. Most nights he’s invisible and only a fraction of the player he was last spring.
In my opinion, John Tortorella should be held somewhat accountable for Kreider’s current developmental free fall.
First of all, Kreider does not belong on the third or fourth lines; he needs to be playing with players who can create. Playing him in a bottom-six role is setting him up for failure.
After Torts sets the youngster up for failure, he punishes him, with a benching or a scratching. Many Rangers fans would tell you it seems like Tortorella has guys who could be considered his “favorites” and others who seem to catch the brunt of all his frustrations.
This, combined with his early struggles in Connecticut, most certainly have Kreider clutching his stick way too tight. It’s obvious he doesn't look comfortable out there, and it’s because he knows the smallest mistake he makes could result in him being sent back to the AHL, and nobody wants that.
Torts is going to have to lengthen Kreider’s leash and just let the kid play again, just like last spring. Because if you look at this team’s prospect depth in the “skilled forward” department, it doesn't run too deep.
The Rangers need Kreider to be a stud.