by Deb Seymour
For most of the 2021-2022 NHL season, it’s been noticeable to both the casual observer and the statistics guru that the New York Rangers have been more consistently formidable in power play mode than at full strength. It’s also been observed, ad nauseum, that they rely too much on their primary goaltender, Igor Shesterkin, for keeping the puck out of the net — and that they probably wouldn’t occupy their current standing in the Metropolitan Division if they played in front of a different primary net minder.
In a somewhat unrelated observation, it’s clear that Chris Kreider, top-line left-wing forward, is having a season to remember — and one that just about no one predicted.
But if we’re going to speculate that the Rangers wouldn’t be where they are without Shesterkin, Kreider’s got to be in the same conversation. And I don’t think anyone can answer the question of whether the Rangers would still be near the top of their division if Shesterkin were the primary goaltender and Kreider were having an average Kreider season. Statistically, he’s accounted for a high enough percentage of the Rangers’ goals that the reflexive response to the question is “no.” But the question also relies on the usual ceteris paribus that all the other teams in the division would’ve had to have had exactly the records they’ve had this season; and for obvious reasons, we can’t assume that.
Kreider was the only Ranger who went to the All-Star game this season; Mika Zibanejad, elected in via final fan vote, had a conflict and couldn’t participate. Shesterkin wasn’t selected nor elected to be an All-Star, which might have been different were the All-Star game held this month — when Shesterkin is being debated daily as a competitor to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews as the potential 2022 Hart Trophy winner. For reasons not totally comprehensible to most who closely follow hockey, however, Shesterkin did not get the All-Star nod this season.
And so here is Chris Kreider, on the cusp of breaking several Ranger records for forwards, already tied with Jaromir Jagr for Ranger power play goals in a season, and their only All-Star this season, and he’s hardly even highlighted in the press or on social media except in Ranger circles. Perhaps it’s precisely because this is a breakout season for the 30-year-old forward, who doesn’t have the previous NHL history of a Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, or Nathan MacKinnon. Kreider isn’t a hockey legend, though he plays on an Original Six team and is having the season of his career. And yet, perhaps that’s what makes his current season even more surprising.
Below are Chris Kreider’s personal career statistics to date:
In proportion to number of games played so far this season, Kreider’s point total is pretty outstanding for any player. In proportion to his previous years with the Rangers, however, Kreider’s point total is remarkably high — especially in the goals category. He’s had seasons in which the assist totals were similar to those of this season. He’s even had a season in which his +/- was higher than it’s been so far this season. The number of power play goals jumps right out at you, though. And this is in decent part why, although Shesterkin has been extremely tough to beat even on the penalty kill, the Rangers are in the position they’re in — even without being the best five-on-five team in their division. Kreider’s taking more shots this year, his shot percentage is the highest it’s been in his career, and the Rangers are reaping the benefits.
Last season, Kreider led the Rangers in hits. That’s not his responsibility this year, due to various changes general manager Chris Drury made to the team’s player personnel in the off-season (and due in part to the recomposition of the Rangers’ defensive pairs). One can hypothesize that Kreider’s offensive game has taken off because he doesn’t feel as much need to defend the zone or his fellow players as in previous years. Chris Kreider will always be a two-way player; that isn’t going to change. But which part of his mental game is getting the most focus might change, depending on circumstance.
There’s no way of knowing what exactly ignited all the shots on goal and the actual scoring this season, but there’s no doubt about Kreider’s contribution to the team’s recent success. Is Kreider a Hart Trophy candidate? No, he’s not. But he’s certainly having a terrific year; and in terms of team impact, one has to hope it continues not only for the rest of this season and postseason — but into the future, as well.