By Larry Wigge
What you want most in a hockey prospect is a pedigree. How is his hockey IQ? Does he bring along all the intangibles -- hard work and drive and passion? Does he play and act like a winner?
Chris Kreider has all of the above ... and in abundance.
The New York Rangers, who drafted Kreider in the first round, 19th overall, in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The are hoping the 6-3, 217-pound left winger brings plenty of that success to them as they signed him to a professional contract after his junior year at Boston College.
Twice in the last three seasons, Kreider helped the Eagles celebrate national championships. He scored a goal in the 2010 NCAA title game for BC as they defeated the University of Wisconsin. He also scored six goals for the gold medal winning United States World Junior Championship team in 2010. Kreider was chosen to represent the United States once again at the 2011 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, and led the team with four goals in six games as the USA won the bronze medal. Two of his goals were scored in the bronze medal game, and he was named the USA's best player for that game.
To be more precise, what the Rangers have in Kreider is a power forward extraordinaire and a big reason why Rick Nash is still a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Kreider is a can't-miss prospect ... the Rangers wouldn't trade even for Nash.
Eighteen days after his signing, he was in the Rangers lineup -- and he helped. Chris made his debut in the third game of the quarterfinal round series against the Ottawa Senators when rookie forward Carl Hagelin was suspended for three games for an illegal hit.
In Game 6, even though Kreider only played in 10:46, he scored the game-winner -- on a wrist shot from the left circle -- in a 3-2 victory.
"It didn't really hit me," said Kreider of his emotions. "Obviously it feels great in retrospect, but I'm just really happy we won the game."
"He has no fear. That's what I like about him," coach John Tortorella said of the rookie. "The biggest thing is his mindset. He's not here to test the waters. He's here to make a difference."
And Chris makes a difference as he did for the Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals, Kreider scored the game-winner seven minutes into the third period by unleashing a booming slap shot from just outside the top of the left circle that beat Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby to the glove side. Ninety seconds later, Kreider assisted on Brad Richards' insurance goal for a 3-1 victory.
"It's been a big change ... but I'm learning to adapt," Kreider said. "It was a surreal experience. I got goose bumps.
"Pressure-filled games are the greatest. I imagine in New York they go to a different level."
Pressure packed games made of a youngster like Kreider.
"He's so fast, a big kid, you just let him go," Richards said of Kreider. "And he’s rode the momentum of what he did in college right into this."
Rookie winger Derek Stepan echoed that.
"He's got great legs. That's what makes Chris effective," he said. "He skates onto pucks and he creates loose pucks. He did it all night for us."
If he's looking to overcome an obstacle, Kreider grew six inches between his 9th and 10th grade seasons. That growth sport, took a smaller and yet competitive to the prime size as well. Even though he's only 20 -- he plays with excitement, poise and passion. Like most of those career-born players -- self-made players with the proper upbringing.
At the back of Dave and Kathy Kreider's garage in Boxboro, Mass., you can find any gadget available to a young boys heart. There's a pitchback screen, a lacrosse net and a soccer goal nestled in the corner.
Yes, there's also a well-worn hockey net, one that has been battered so much that the top crossbar is warped.
"I can tell him where to shoot it," said Kathy. "Chris would hit it exactly where I ask him to every time."
His parents can see their son practicing his trade -- whatever the sport it may be.
Goal! Goal! Goal!
Each blast that has left a reminder on that crossbar or one of the posts — not to mention the thousands he's driven into the twine of that same net.
At the scouting combine in Toronto, he laughed at all the tests -- hardly what Kreider expected a hockey player to do.
"And you do it all with a smile on your face; it's a little like the Miss America Pageant," he said with a chuckle.
Chris will never forget his love of soccer, football, baseball, lacrosse, tennis, golf, volleyball.
"But those are just games. Hockey's a sport," Kreider said.
We won't argue the virtues of the other sports. Chris made his choice -- and hockey was it. It has created the pedigree we talked about earlier at Boston College, United States team in the World Junior and now the New York Rangers.
For Chris Kreider, the self-motivated, career-born player, he's starred against older, stronger competition at every turn by challenging himself.
He's still challenging himself.