Part 10 in a series analyzing the New York Rangers.
Let’s play Jeopardy.
The Answer: Jan Erixon.
The question: Who is the last forward drafted by the Rangers to remain with the team until age 30?
Erixon was drafted in 1981.
Tony Granato, Doug Weight, Tony Amonte, Tomas Sandstrom, Ulf Dahlen; those guys went pretty early. So did Niklas Sundstrom, Marc Savard and Mike York. Alex Kovalev was only 25 when he was sent away the first time.
Artem Anisimov was gone at 24. Brandon Dubinsky was out at 26, as was Carl Hagelin. Derek Stepan was traded at age 27. Ryan Callahan, co-conspirator in his exit, made it to 29.
This trip through history is to remind you that Chris Kreider turns 29 on April 30 and will be on the first year of his seven-year extension next season. We live in a time where we cannot even assume tomorrow, that is understood, but barring the most extenuating circumstances, Kreider will make it to 30 in a Blueshirt.
You are quite familiar by now with the often interchangeable exclamation point and question mark that follow the four words, Did You See Chris. It was a question mark the first couple of months of this season in which No. 20 scored seven goals in his first 32 games. It was an exclamation point essentially thereafter while the winger scored 17 in his next 26 contests to help drive the Rangers into the playoff race.
That was the outburst that convinced what previously had been a quite skeptical management to go all in on the club’s third-senior player and lock him up as a vital plank of the bridge from rebuild to contention. Around the middle of the year the refrain out of the front office was along the lines of, “How could we keep Chris?” By the deadline it was, “How could we not?”
Kreider arrived only two months after Linsanity had swept through the city, joining the Rangers on the cusp on the 2012 playoffs just days after helping to lead Boston College to the national championship in his junior season. He played much sooner than expected, replacing Hagelin for Game 3 of the first round against Ottawa when No. 62 had been suspended for elbowing Daniel Alfredsson in the head.
John Tortorella had three options to fill Hagelin’s spot and all three skated in the Game 3 warmup in Ottawa, the coach of course refusing to publicly commit. There were Kreider, slow-footed enforcer John Scott, and defenseman-by-trade Stu Bickel, who also played forward on occasion (even center, once, as New Jersey’s Ryan Carter might recall). It was impossible to tell off the pre-game line rushes.
When the first lineup sheet appeared on NHL.com, it included Scott. It was unfathomable. It was also incorrect, the correction made within a moment or so. It was Kreider, who not only played his first NHL game, but did on the first line with Brad Richards in the middle and Marian Gaborik on the right. The unit lasted for one game.
But Kreider scored in Game 4. And then he scored again in Game 1 of the next round against the Caps. And that is when, somehow, Kreider became the Rangers’ version of Jeremy Lin. Chris-sanity is what it was called as the 20-year-old scored five goals in his first 15 playoff games.
Lin was gone off to Houston that July.
Kreider is still here.
Do you remember that Kreider did not make the team out of Alain Vigneault’s first training camp in 2013? Jesper Fast made it. Taylor Pyatt made it. Derek Dorsett made it. Arron Asham made it. J.T. Miller made it. Kreider was sent to the AHL.
He was recalled in late October and hasn’t gone anywhere since, establishing himself as an essential member of the top six for Vigneault and for David Quinn despite his propensity for taking more than the occasional walkabout.
This year’s splits are not unique. In 2018-19, Kreider scored 20 goals in his first 37 games. He finished with eight in his final 42. He has had stretches in which he has scored two goals in 21 games (2017-18), one in 16 (2016-17), one in 19 (2014-15). Exacerbating the issue is that when Kreider isn’t scoring, he too often isn’t involved at all. Nine years later, we know who he is.
He is a force when he’s going, an intimidating presence with size, speed and strength and a finisher’s hands. (Pay no attention to that year, was it 2015-16, when after finally scoring on a breakaway late in the year, he exclaimed, “I’m 1-for-72!”). He is a vital part of a superior power play. He is a leader in the room, an offseason workout pied piper for any and all who want to join him. He is, in large part, the team’s conscience.
In 2013-14, Kreider was on the left with Stepan in the middle and Rick Nash on the right. That had been the team’s best line post-Jaromir Jagr. Now, a debate is in the offing. That line, or the one with Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.
Take your pick.
Either way, it includes Kreider.
Of course it does.
Age: 29 on April 30.
Contract: Next season will mark first year of seven-year extension with annual cap hit of $6.5 million.
Stats: 24-21-45 in 63 games.