One of the toughest awards to handicap this season is the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s top rookie. Blue-liners Seth Jones (Nashville) and Torey Krug (Boston), goaltenders Martin Jones (Los Angeles) and Cam Talbot (New York Rangers) and forwards Valeri Nichushkin (Dallas) and Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado) are all compelling cases. But the most deserving at the halfway point of the season is the Rangers’ Chris Kreider.
The Boston College standout made an impressive NHL debut during the 2012 playoffs, scoring seven points in 18 games before the Rangers succumbed to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference finals. The following regular season, his first in the NHL, was a bit of a disappointment as he split time between Broadway and the AHL and scored just three points in 23 games with New York. This season he appears to be realizing his potential.
Kreider has 22 points in 35 games, third among rookies. But even more impressive is that 17 of those points have been either goals or primary assists. His physical play has him credited for 90 hits, 38 more than the other team dishes out when he is on the ice.
However, most of the power forward’s contributions don’t even show up on the scoresheet. Ignoring special teams and lead-protecting situations, the Rangers have outshot opponents 250 to 192 (56.6 percent) when Kreider skates. Those same linemates in the same situations take just 47.6 percent of the shot attempts without Kreider, indicating a massive tilting of the ice. And it isn’t coming against soft competition. Here are the shifts (courtesy of ShiftChart.com) from the Dec. 18 matchup against Pittsburgh. Notice how Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault used Kreider against Sidney Crosby’s line, especially during the first period:
It’s been that way for Kreider the entire season. In fact, the 10 opponents he has faced most often based on even-strength ice time include not only Crosby line but Jaromir Jagr’s and Alex Ovechkin’s as well — and none of those have scored a goal against him at even strength.
To recap: Scoring? Check. Driving puck possession? Check. Playing against top competition? Check. Rookie of the year front-runner? Check.