The New York Rangers‘ Chris Kreider said all the right things before and after yesterday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. But you know in his heart that his hat-trick against his former coach, John Tortorella, was the most satisfying and vindicating moment of his young career. Not only is his improvement a major benefit for the Rangers, but it also makes him a favorite for the Calder Trophy as the NHL‘s Rookie of the Year. Yesterday’s performance just may have made him the favorite.
Kreider is currently tied for second in the league with 16 points for rookies. He is tied for fifth in goals, is second in assists and is second in points per game for those that have played more than ten games. Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks may lead all rookies in most offensive categories, but Kreider’s numbers have been far more valuable to his team. Playing for a team that struggles to score, Kreider’s continued improvement is critical to the Rangers’ success. Hertl, on the other hand, is surrounded by offensive firepower and talent. This certainly makes it conceivable that you can hand the Calder to Kreider if the season ended today.
Two months ago this all seemed like a pipe dream. Kreider did not make the team out of training camp and failed to impress new head coach Alain Vigneault. Last season, Kreider bounced back-and-forth between the Rangers and the AHL. He was constantly in Tortorella’s doghouse and only saw limited time on the fourth line when he actually suited up as a Ranger. It seemed the Kreider that electrified the Rangers and the league during the 2012 playoffs would never return. That player has not only returned, but he’s getting better.
Don’t be surprised if Kreider ends up winning the Calder when all is said and done. Not only is he beginning to put up the necessary numbers, but he is making his team better, too. And he’s only getting started.