After scoring five goals and seven points in 18 playoff games last summer, Chris Kreider has no points and is a minus-2 through three games this season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK – Exactly what a player such as Nino Niederreiter has done to merit making a trade demand is one of the great mysteries of this season. Not sure if anyone has bothered to check, but the kid has played 64 NHL games for the New York Islanders and has as many career goals as Martin Brodeur.
In any event, it’s heartening to see there are some organizations that have learned the lesson that rushing players into the NHL is potentially a recipe for disaster. In all the time I’ve covered this game, I have yet to encounter a single player whose career was ruined by being brought along slowly and methodically. On the other hand, the scrap heap is littered with players who were placed into situations they were not prepared to handle.
That’s why the Islanders are doing the right thing by not giving in to the demands of a 20-year-old. Kudos to them for that. And the New York Rangers might be on the verge of doing the same thing with 21-year-old Chris Kreider, the darling of last year’s playoff run who is struggling mightily to keep up to the pace and intensity of the best league in the world. His decision-making and play have been tentative and his defensive positioning has been suspect.
In fact, Rangers coach John Tortorella said after his team’s 4-3 overtime win against the Boston Bruins Wednesday night that a one-way ticket to the Connecticut Whale of the American League might ultimately be the best thing for Kreider. It might come as a shock to those who watched Kreider play in the playoffs last year and had him penciled in as a Calder Trophy contender, but it has not to Tortorella and the Rangers.
“That’s something I think we really have to talk about as an organization because I still think he needs to go through the process,” Tortorella said. “We need to be really careful how we deal with this kid. That shouldn’t be a shock. I’ve seen players just ruined because you put them in a situation and they just struggle and they don’t succeed and they never come out of it. And they’re done, they’re out of the game. I do not want to see that happen to him.”
Not sure I’d want to have to deal with Tortorella on a daily basis, but for all his abruptness and abrasiveness, he’s also insightful and bursting with candor. Case in point was Wednesday night when he basically called out Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards for their play in the Rangers’ first two games. He was asked whether he was worried that he was top-loading his roster too much by having a first line of Richards between Gaborik and Rick Nash.
“Sure you lose a little bit of balance,” Tortorella said. “Right now, you don’t lose any balance because I think there’s only one guy playing – Nash.”
Gaborik responded with an inspired game and a hat trick, including the game winner in overtime where his speed and skill were on full display. Tortorella was full of praise for Gaborik and was brutally honest in his assessment of him.
“He has changed himself as a player since he’s been here,” Tortorella said. “He may not like me saying it, but he was a perimeter guy. He was a perimeter guy who did not want to practice because he was sore. He wasn’t injured. He’s a very talented player who’s willing to be there. When I first met him, I didn’t think he was willing to be there.”
Other nuggets included:
• On Taylor Pyatt: “I worry sometimes about the speed of the game, but he’s deceptive. He gets there. Sometimes I don’t think he’s going to get down the ice, but he ends up getting there.”
• On the play of his team beyond the first line: “Not great. I’m still not honestly comfortable playing in a four-line rotation. I don’t think guys have played well enough for me to play a four-line rotation comfortably.”
• On the second goal that was scored by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 6-3 Rangers loss Sunday night: “Bick (Stu Bickel) gets smoked, Kreider watches a guy go to the net and bang in a rebound. Michael Del Zotto wants nothing to do with contact area as far as stopping the first attempt. Those were fourth-line players who scored that second goal on us.”
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.