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NHL Playoffs 2012: Chris Kreider Continues to Excel for New York Rangers

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistMay 19, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 19:  Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers scores a third period goal past Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on May 19, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

New York Rangers rookie phenom Chris Kreider scored in his third straight game on Saturday, as the Blueshirts shut out the New Jersey Devils 3-0 to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference finals series.

With his most recent goal, Kreider sets a new scoring record for goals by a rookie who has not yet played his first regular-season NHL game, with five.

The previous record was three goals in one playoff year, shared by Ray Cote of the 1983 Edmonton Oilers and George McPhee of the 1983 Rangers (yes, the George McPhee who's now the Capitals GM). One player actually scored four goals, but Eddie Mazur of Montreal did it over the course of three playoffs from 1951-53 before making his regular-season debut in 1953-54.

With goals in such short supply in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Kreider's contributions may well have been the difference between success and failure for the Rangers so far. His first two goals were game-winners, staving off elimination in Game 6 against Ottawa, then grabbing the first game of the series against Washington. Of the five goals he's scored, only his tally in Game 2 against New Jersey came in a losing cause.

Kreider's accuracy is also uncanny. Three of his five goals, including Game 3's, have come on his only shot of the game.

After playing in 15 of the Rangers' 17 playoff games so far, the only players in this series with more goals are Brad Richards, who made $22 million this year as part of a $60 million deal, and Ilya Kovalchuk, who made $6 million as part of a $100 million contact. They each have six.

CapGeek.com reports that Kreider will make $900,000 this year—which would be pretty good for most juniors' first job out of college. He's on a three-year, entry-level deal with a total value of $2.4 million.

While it's unlikely that anybody expected this level of offensive output from Kreider, expectations were high for the big winger, drafted 19th overall out of Andover High, MA, in 2009. Kreider went on to Boston College, won a NCAA championship in 2010, then distinguished himself in 2012 by becoming the first player in 25 years to win the Frozen Four then debut in the NHL playoffs in the same year. The last player to do this was Tony Hrkac in 1987, with North Dakota and the St. Louis Blues.

Kreider's career to date gives us every reason to believe that he's not just a flash in the pan. This season, he led the Boston College Eagles in scoring with 22-21-43 in 42 games. He was also a key member of Team USA's gold medal-winning squad at the 2010 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships and played at the senior World Championship in 2010 and 2011.

As the playoffs wear on, the Rangers are starting to look like a tired team at times. NHL playoffs are well known for the toll they take on their players, and the Rangers have endured a particularly grueling grind so far. They've played two seven-game series, one triple-overtime thriller, and put their bodies through the wringer blocking 328 shots to date—by far, the most in the league and more than double the Devils' 159.

Thanks to the lighter NCAA schedule, Kreider's youth and relative freshness compared to his teammates may serve him and his team well as the going gets even tougher.

In NHL circles, Kreider's name first started getting tossed around with regularity back in February, when he was said to be the player the Rangers were unwilling to surrender to Columbus in the deal for Rick Nash.

Good call. The way Kreider's been producing, it's hard to imagine that even a superstar like Nash could have done much more.

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