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Flying somewhat under the radar among Derek Stepan’s goal-scoring slump, Michael Grabner’s goal-scoring resurgence, and J.T. Miller’s team-leading points totals is Chris Kreider. With eight games remaining in the regular season, Kreider has already established a career-high in goals and points with 26 and 49, respectively. He’s two assists away from setting a career-high in that category as well.
It has been a long time coming for Kreider. Now in his fourth full NHL season with the Rangers, Kreider has found a way to take his game to the level fans were promised when word out of Boston College was that the Rangers had drafted a stud. The name of Kreider’s game is a combination of size and speed. He will never dazzle anyone with fantastic moves or a seeing-eye shot, but his ability to get behind the defense is matched by few in the league.
Another key to his game that has developed as he has gotten stronger is his ability to battle in front of the net and get to loose pucks. Watch this goal as Kreider battles to get himself into a great position to pick up Stepan’s pass from below the goal line and simply overpowers Jordie Benn to score on his own rebound.
The front of the net is where Chris Kreider makes his hay. This season, he leads the league in tip-in goals with eight. Since joining the league in 2012-2013, he is ranked second in tip-in goals with 24, only two goals behind Wayne Simmonds and tied with Jeff Carter – that is good company to keep.
There’s no better example of Kreider’s net-front prowess than this goal vs. the Arizona Coyotes as he finds open ice in the slot and brilliantly deflects a Nick Holden shot from the point.
The two goals shared in this article showcase what is probably Kreider’s most improved aspect of his game – his game sense. He is finding open spaces on the ice to receive passes, deflect shots toward the net, and pick up loose pucks. When he’s on the ice, the Rangers are a force to be reckoned with. That is reflected in his 58.3% 5-on-5 Scoring Chance For percentage and his 54.1% 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage which are ranked third and fourth on the team, respectively. Individually, he possesses the most scoring chances on the team with 57.
Another factor that is evident in both highlights is the clear chemistry among Kreider, Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello. The Kreider, Stepan, and Zuccarello line has been the Rangers’ most consistently paired line all season, being fielded 12.63% of the time, according to LeftWingLock. That is quite an impressive number considering Alain Vigneault is not particularly known for his patience with line combinations. The reasoning for that quite obvious when you dig a little deeper and find that the Kreider, Stepan, and Zuccarello line has the best possession statistics, scoring chance statistics, and, somewhat interestingly, has drawn 27 penalties while only taking 17 penalties.
Having a steady line that can consistently drive possession and threaten in the offensive zone is extremely important, especially in the playoffs – the place where Chris Kreider was first introduced to Rangers fans, fresh out of college, running on pure adrenaline. As his career has gone on, his playoff performance has not waned. He is a .56 point per game player in the regular season and he is a .50 point per game player in the playoffs. That point distribution is commendable in a league where many players find it more difficult to generate points in the postseason where the game gets tighter and competition gets stronger.
Kreider’s game is perfectly suited for playoff hockey. Playoff goals are rarely pretty and are usually the result of making your way to the “dirty areas” of the ice, where Kreider thrives. The figure below, courtesy of Corsica, is a density map of each of his goals since joining the league in the 2012-2013 season. He’s scored a vast majority of them right in front of the net.
At 25 years old and in just the first year of the five-year, $18.5M extension he signed last July, the consistency Chris Kreider found has been a boon for this year’s Rangers. Should he maintain this level of performance, not only is he poised to make noise for the Blueshirts this Spring but perhaps beyond.