Chris Kreider made his debut for the New York Rangers in playoffs last season, and quickly became the first person in NHL history who’s first two career goals were playoff game winners. He played in 18 contests, and finished with five goals (first person to ever score five times before seeing a regular season game), and two assists for seven points.
He’s also going to win the Calder Trophy next season. Here’s five reasons why:
This year’s draft saw defensemen selected with eight of the first 10 picks. While defensemen are certainly capable of winning the Calder Trophy, the position just isn’t as sexy or noticeable as that of being a goal-scorer. And, not to mention, it takes longer for defenseman to reach their potential in the NHL, as the best in the world are mostly stronger, more physical men. Since 1990, the Calder has been won by a defenseman only three times (Bryan Berard, Barret Jackman and Tyler Myers).
The other two top ten picks were Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, who went to Edmonton (1st) and Montreal (3rd).
Kreider’s big advantage over those two is his age. He went to college (winning two national titles with Boston College) instead of choosing the major junior route, meaning his body (and mind) had more years to develop, and he had more time to mature. That’s a huge leg up when you’re thrown into the NHL fire, and while voters often keep that in mind, I think he’ll do enough to stay on top.
The NHL still qualifies any player as a rookie who hasn’t played more than 25 games by the start of the season, excluding playoff games. A few years back Logan Couture played 25 regular season games with the Sharks (but not more!), then 15 playoff games, and was still eligible for the Calder the following year. That’s 40 games, and he was still good. It’s bizarre, given the basic rule when it comes to suspension that “a playoff game is worth two regular season games.” A little inconsistent there, NHL.
Kreider doesn’t have that much of an advantage – he only played in 18 playoff contests – but those games matter. After my college season, I played some games with the local ECHL team (though I had higher aspirations) because so many hockey people told me that playing some pro hockey before going to tryouts the next year would make a big difference, and they were right – I was far more comfortable heading to camp the next season knowing more of what to expect.
Kreider now knows the pace, the pressure, the physical play…he knows what to expect, so he’ll likely have a shorter “feeling out” period, and should get off to a better start. Now he just has to be the best he can be.
Nail Yakupov is 5’11″ and 185 pounds. Alex Galchenyuk is 6’1″, 198 pounds. Chris Kreider is 6’3″, 230. He’s a 230 pound NHL rookie goal scorer.
This past season we saw Gabriel Landeskog edge out Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the Calder, mostly because he plays a better all-around game, and is the more physical player. Kreider is going to have that edge on the other two forwards we’re discussing (I’m aware there are other sleepers out there, by the way, just focusing on the favourites here) in that regard, not to mention the other thing: if you want to score goals, you have to be able to get to dangerous areas of the ice, and not get pushed off the puck – being big and strong certainly helps in that regard. It doesn’t hurt that Kreider’s release is deadly once he gets there.
Yakupov and Galchenyuk will both likely see plenty of ice time for rookies, but they won’t be playing with the quality of players that Kreider will have the luxury of using. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Rangers top-six likely leaves him with any two of Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, or Ryan Callahan.
I fell in love with the guy’s game during playoffs, and just can’t conjure up a scenario in my head where he’s not a huge contributor this season. But, I’m open to other votes. If I’m wrong, and Kreider doesn’t claim the Calder…who ya got?