Rangers' Future Is Waiting...and Waiting
New York Patiently Waits for Top Prospect Chris Kreider, Who Has Repeatedly Eschewed the NHL to Play for Boston College
By MIKE SIELSKICHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—Glen Sather had already spent more than two and a half years waiting for Chris Kreider, and as Sather pressed a phone to his ear and prepared to speak to a national television audience, Kreider made him wait a few minutes more.
The Rangers' president and general manager was poised for an interview during the CBS Sports Network broadcast of a recent men's ice hockey game between Boston College and Vermont. But the interview couldn't begin at its scheduled moment—six minutes into the second period—because Kreider had just put the puck into the Vermont net for his 20th goal of the season.
Once play resumed, Sather again failed to answer a familiar question: Will Kreider, the Rangers' first-round draft pick in 2009, join the team in time for this year's playoffs? "Whether he's going to play immediately," Sather said, "is going to be up to him."
A 6-feet-3-inch, 225-pound junior forward, Kreider has become the J.D. Salinger of college hockey since enrolling at Boston College, eschewing the opportunity to enter the NHL immediately to instead sequester himself on this campus a few miles west of downtown Boston. After each of Kreider's previous seasons with the Eagles, the Rangers recommended that he turn pro. He declined. Now, with the Rangers atop the Eastern Conference, Kreider has an entire NHL organization and its fan base wondering whether he'll begin his career with the Rangers this spring or return to BC for his senior season.
"It's not something I enjoy at all," he said. "Imagine if you're on my team in college. I'm telling the New York media, 'Yeah, I'm gone. I can't wait to join them.' How does that look? I'm supposed to be a leader in one facet or another, and I'm almost writing off the season?"
Though Kreider would not reveal whether he has made a decision, let alone what that decision is, it is difficult to find anyone who has spent any significant time around him or the Boston College program who believes he won't leave school once BC's season ends—which, if the Eagles reach the Frozen Four, would be in early April, just in time for the NHL playoffs. "The car's warming up in the driveway," said Eric Frede, who called the BV-Vermont game for CBS. Given that the Eagles won a national championship in Kreider's freshman year and their second consecutive Hockey East regular-season championship this year, that he is just four classes away from graduating with a degree in communication, and that even Eagles head coach Jerry York said, "He's ready," there seems little reason for Kreider to return. What worlds are left for him to conquer in college?
"He's at the stage where what he has to learn is from the pros," said Gordie Clark, the Rangers' director of player personnel. "That's the way I put it to Chris, and that's the way I put it to his parents."
David and Kathy Kreider, Chris's parents, declined to comment for this story, but Chris said that the emphasis that they placed on education as he was growing up made the choice to stay at BC for his freshman and sophomore years really no choice at all. He has immersed himself in two pursuits—hockey and schoolwork—since arriving here. He carries a 3.0 grade-point average, has taken summer courses in an attempt to complete his degree as quickly as possible, and rarely attends the sorts of bacchanalian social gatherings so common to the college experience. "It's been more of a job," said Kreider, who turns 21 on April 30, and because ice hockey is not necessarily the keynote men's sport at Boston College, "it's been very easy to stay off the radar."
Part of the reason Kreider has been so patient to begin his professional career is that he emerged as an NHL prospect rather suddenly. During his sophomore year at Masconomet High School in Topsfield, Mass., he underwent a terrific growth spurt, sprouting four inches in height and putting on 20 pounds. He subsequently transferred to Phillips Academy Andover, a secondary school with a more highly regarded hockey program. The first time a Division I coach told Kreider he wanted to recruit him, Kreider was so excited he began to cry.
"He just blossomed into what you see now," said Bill Blackwell, the head coach at Masconomet. "He was dominant, just freakishly fast, great hands and strength."
Clark puts Kreider's speed on par with that of Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin, the fastest skater in this year's NHL All-Star Skills Competition, and to watch Kreider against Vermont was to understand the comparison. Twice, Kreider surged down the right wing and backhanded the puck into the slot, and on neither occasion was a teammate there to accept the pass—because none were fast enough to keep up with him. "And down low," Clark said, "he's so bloody strong holding the puck."
That combination of speed and power made Kreider the focus of trade rumors last month as the Rangers pursued Rick Nash, a star forward for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Throughout February, Kreider's friends teased him about the speculation, interrupting his meals and morning skates with reports of phony transactions. "He wouldn't talk to me on trade-deadline day," said Samson Lee, one of Kreider's roommates.
It would not be unheard of for a player in Kreider's position to return for his senior year. Of the 20 former Boston College players on NHL rosters this season, 11 used all four years of their college eligibility. But if Kreider does elect to come back, he runs the risk of alienating the very people most eager to see him in a Rangers uniform.
"It's another part of the process," he said. "When the time comes, that's something I'll deal with."
In his mind, that time has not come yet. After Boston College beat Vermont, 4-0, to clinch the Hockey East title, Kreider sat slumped in a corner of the locker room. He had removed his jersey and his shoulder and torso pads, leaving himself bare-chested, and as his teammates spoke one by one at York's prompting, commending each other for solid defensive plays and timely goals scored, Kreider kept his eyes straight ahead, his face a blank slate, as if he were allowing his mind to wander. He was not. "It was a special moment," he said later, "as is any moment you are able to win a trophy." So he made sure to take everything in, to listen to his teammates' every word, to think only of the here and now, nothing else.