Former New York Rangers coach John Tortorella has a hard time with young players, plain and simple.
Going back to his days as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning when he stripped then 21-year-old Vincent Lecavalier of his captaincy, Tortorella has never been “kid friendly”. This attitude was on display again last year when after being a postseason sensation for the Rangers in 2012, he demoted Chris Kreider to the minors and had him playing mostly in the bottom six when his skillset should have had him on a higher line.
It appeared as if Kreider’s development had stalled with the hard-nosed Tortorella breaking his confidence.
After getting knocked out by the Boston Bruins in last year’s playoffs, Tortorella’s tenure as Ranger head coach came to an end as he was unceremoniously shown the door. His replacement Alain Vigneault gave Kreider a clean slate, and the former Boston College Eagle took advantage of it.
Sans six games with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL early in the season, Kreider was with the Rangers the entire season and was allowed to showcase his offensive abilities alongside the team’s best players. His speed and craftiness were on display as he was among the league’s top rookie scorers, tallying 37 points in 66 games before being sidelined with a hand injury in March.
Kreider’s return from injury coincided with the Rangers’ comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins, providing the team a major spark as New York came back from a 3-1 deficit. While many will point to his inadvertent hit on Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price as his most noted moment in the playoffs, his play beyond the Price incident has been spectacular.
His four points in the Game 5 loss gave him 10 points in nine playoff games, which has him sixth on the team in playoff scoring despite missing the team’s first nine postseason games. The Rangers are one win away from their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years and Kreider’s play is a huge reason why.
Regardless of where the Rangers’ season ends, Kreider has a bright future as he will be speeding down the wing and deking the NHL’s best players as a Broadway Blueshirt for years to come. The Massachusetts native is also a restricted free agent this summer, and his stellar play will surely contribute to him getting a nice extension from the Rangers.
Kreider owes a lot of this success to the faith Vigneault has shown in him and suffice it to say, he is more than rewarding that faith with his stellar postseason play. The Rangers are playing with more confidence as a team than they did in last year’s playoffs under Tortorella, and Kreider’s play is a microcosm of that confidence.