The inevitable has happened as the Rangers have finally signed top prospect Chris Kreider to an entry-level contract. The Rangers, usually not an organization that discusses moves with the press, put an all-out media blitzkrieg and let the world know how badly they wanted Kreider to sign while Kreider acknowledged his heavy course load in order to graduate early. Thus, it was the worst kept secret that Kreider would be signing sometime before next season, if not for this season.
But exactly how soon can we expect to see Kreider in the lineup?
Nobody in the Rangers organization has said anything yet about Kreider’s role right now but rumblings are that the Rangers don’t play to stick him in the lineup right away. This is a fair assessment. No matter how many NHL scouts insist that Kreider is an NHL caliber player right now the NHL and especially playoff hockey is completely different than college hockey and there will be some sort of adjustment. Jaden Schwartz, considered the best prospect in college hockey before being signed by the Blues recently, has been held out of some regular season games and has played limited minutes in others, so it’s not expected that Tortorella will throw caution to the wind and demand Kreider be ready for the playoffs only days after finishing up his college career.
But still, all signs point to the Rangers having faith in Kreider’s potential impact during this playoff run. All teams are allowed to submit a list of a few players by the trading deadline not currently on the roster that they want eligible for the playoffs. It is under this system that the Predators were able to make Alex Radulov available for the playoffs despite signing after the trading deadline.
Kreider was on the list for the Rangers and if the Rangers had absolutely no optimism about him being a potential piece of the playoff lineup then they wouldn’t have bothered to include him. Furthermore, Kreider is eligible to play for the Connecticut Whale, who will also be involved in the playoffs. Why not simply send him down to learn there?
I don’t think John Tortorella is currently planning on sticking Chris Kreider in the lineup for Game One against Ottawa but let’s be realistic. John Tortorella has shown time and time again that he has absolutely no fear putting rookies in the lineup and giving them a chance. Similarly, he also has shown no hesitance to limit the role of older, more experienced players or take them out of the lineup all together.
And of course this is playoff hockey. It’s incredibly unlikely that the Rangers, should they go on any sort of extended run, will be injury-free in the process. And with Wolski and Christensen traded, Sean Avery sent home, and Zuccarello injured who is left to fill in? Andre Deveaux? Kris Newbury? Casey Wellman? I find it very unlikely that the coaching staff chooses one of those names instead of giving Kreider his shot.
John Tortorella certainly has faith in this lineup and it’s unlikely that Chris Kreider will be comfortable and understanding of Tortorella’s system after one practice tomorrow. That being sad, the usually quiet Glen Sather and the scouting staff have been spreading the “Chris Kreider is NHL ready right now” propaganda since January. A couple of bad games from Fedotenko or Rupp or Mitchell or a single injury could open up a chance for Kreider, and I think it’s likely that we see him at some point, even only in a cameo, during this playoff run.