The New York Rangers are going to be an intriguing team to watch early on this season because of the addition of bench boss Alain Vigneault. In particular, it is going to be fun to see whether youngster Chris Kreider rises or falls under his new coach, because this could be a make-or-break year for the Blueshirts' top prospect.
Vigneault was brought to Manhattan to inject some offense into the Rangers' system, and Kreider should greatly benefit from this coaching style.
At his introductory press conference, Vigneault talked about his philosophy on defense and offense and how he felt it was applicable to the Rangers.
If you look at Vancouver, how we evolved over the years, we were a more defensive-oriented team because our skill level wasn’t as high, Vigneault said at a news conference at Radio City Music Hall. As soon as our skill level started to evolve, we became one of the best offensive teams in the league. And that’s what I intend to do in New York.
The former Vancouver Canucks head coach has a history of taking talented players and making them better, and this chart shows the Sedins before and after AV stepped behind the bench.
While Kreider is different from the Sedins, it is an interesting statistic to consider, because it shows what talented players can do when an offensive system is promoted. Offense has not been promoted very much in the past, and that will change this season.
For the past few years, the Rangers have been on the receiving end of plenty of criticism in regard to their style, with Norwegian national team coach Roy Johansen going as far as referring to them, via Roy Wahlstrom of Dagbladet, as a "stone age" hockey team, one that has put a strong emphasis on blocking shots, playing strong defense and doing things “the right way.” This style was effective for New York in 2011-12, but the style became too demanding.
Under the Rangers' former head coach, John Tortorella, Kreider had a tumultuous time with the Broadway Blueshirts, and he didn't receive much playing time because of it.
While Tortorella appreciated Kreider's offensive potential, his size (6'3", 226 pounds) and his strong skating ability, he was adamant that the Boxford, Mass., native needed to become a better two-way player.
Despite this, Kreider was jerked around between the AHL and NHL multiple times because of injuries, and it stunted his development. Even though he had an up-and-down season, Kreider was still upbeat and confident about his situation when he spoke with the media at breakup day.
In a different New York Times article from Klein, Kreider said:
There were a lot of things encouraging about this season though. I don’t think there was anything that was really discouraging for me. I was excited to come back every day to get better.
This is encouraging to hear from Kreider, and fortunately, nothing that happened under Tortorella will matter to Vigneault. This week, the Rangers introduced a new motto for this season on shirts the Rangers have been wearing in camp this week: "Clean slate; Grab it!"
With that in mind, what can fans expect to see out of Kreider initially under Vigneault? For starters, Kreider has a great opportunity to ascend toward stardom this season because of the situation he is in.
Kreider is 22 years old, he has some professional hockey under his belt and he has a clean slate.
Vigneault has stated, per Katie Strang of ESPN New York, that he hasn't watched much tape of the team from last season, because he wants everyone to get a chance to prove themselves.
Injuries are likely going to keep right winger Ryan Callahan and left winger Carl Hagelin out of the lineup until November, and that gives Kreider a great chance to take a spot in the top six.
Barring a few surprises, here is what the opening-night roster should look like.
Even though Kreider has his documented defensive shortcomings, and Vigneault has stated that he will focus on playing strong defensively, Kreider has a chance to be a factor. Advanced stats are something the Rangers are going to keep track of this year, and that is great news for Kreider.
It is also a good sign that Vigneault has a history of taking talented young players and turning them into NHL players. Here is a short list of all the players who grew under AV.
- Ryan Kesler
- Alex Burrows
- Jannik Hansen
- Mason Raymond
- Alex Edler
- Kevin Bieksa
- Cory Schneider
While the Rangers' top prospect may not be a great two-way player yet, he has great offensive instincts and the size to be a factor on the ice. For that reason, Vigneault will continue to match lines by giving Kreider as many offensive-zone starts as possible.
Vigneault said he'll employ zone-matching he used with the Vancouver Canucks. While Vigneault and his staff popularized the technique—which entails the most offensively gifted players getting the lion's share of offensive-zone starts—many teams have adopted its use, to at least some degree.
By doing this, Kreider will get a chance to be a factor offensively, and he won't be put in situations where he isn't the most comfortable yet.
While Kreider will have to become a solid defensive player to reach his potential, it is good to know that he will be put in offensive chances even if he makes mistakes defensively.
The biggest thing Kreider needs to do this season is remain confident and assertive. There were glimpses of that during the second round of the playoffs against the Bruins.
The Rangers power forward was throwing his weight into players and connecting with some huge hits. He also was taking chances offensively, and that ultimately led to this great goal.
Ultimately, anything can happen this season for Kreider, but there are enough reasons to believe that AV will help him become a solid hockey player. Kreider is young, he has a unique balance of size, speed and intelligence and he is getting a clean slate.
So how will Kreider produce this year? A fair prediction for the Rangers winger would be 20 to 25 goals and tallying at least 50 points.
If Kreider takes off offensively and ends up on a line with Rick Nash, he could be a favorite to win rookie of the year. While fans should temper expectations about Kreider, there is no reason to believe he won't progress this year.
He had a solid collegiate career, he has made improvements in little areas since becoming a pro and all he needed was an opportunity. Now that he has the opportunity, it is put-up or shut-up time.
It will be interesting to see if Kreider rises to the occasion, and it will be even more intriguing to see what the Rangers do if he falters. Right now, this is all speculation, but this certainly will be a great story to follow throughout the course of the NHL season.