March 1, 2012

Hockey East Journal: Kreider may join Rangers for playoffs

By Andrew Merritt

From the day Chris Kreider set foot on the Boston College campus, speculation has run rampant about when he would leave it. 

Chris Kreider has 36 points through 34 games for BC this season. (Dave Arnold Photography)

Drafted by the New York Rangers some four months before he even pulled on a BC sweater for the first time in 2009, the Boxford, Mass., native has frequently been the subject of prognostication, even expectation that he would leave BC early and go pro. Observers thought he was gone after the Eagles won the Beanpot, Hockey East and NCAA titles in his freshman year, and they really thought he was gone after his sophomore season ended with another Beanpot, another Hockey East title, and a disappointing loss in the first round of the national tournament.

Now, as Kreider’s junior season nears its close, it’s not just the observers who think he might be ready to trade the maroon and gold of Boston College for the red, white and blue of the Rangers.

“Absolutely,” is the word the New York Post’s Larry Brooks quoted Rangers GM Glen Sather as using in regards to whether he thinks Kreider will leave BC at the end of the season and join the Blueshirts for their playoff run.

Brooks’ column in the Feb. 29 edition of the Post essentially treats Kreider’s early departure to New York as a fait accompli, and notes that no player has made the leap from the college ranks right to winning a Stanley Cup. Even if BC makes it to the national title game on April 7 in Tampa, Fla. – certainly a good bet with the Eagles playing their best hockey and entering this weekend’s regular season finale as the No. 1 team in the nation – and the Rangers at least one of the favorites to win the Cup this year, it seems that Kreider could be just the player to blaze that trail.

It wouldn’t be much of a shock to anyone who follows the Eagles, Hockey East or college hockey in general. With all of those prognostications about Kreider leaving after his freshman and sophomore seasons came sighs of relief from BC fans when he decided to stay. Kreider is listed at 6-foot-3, 225 lbs., and augments his size with great speed and a nose for the net that has brought him big goals in college and the World Junior Championships, where he won gold in 2010.

Though a learning curve is expected for any player jumping up to the pro ranks, Kreider is a pitch-perfect example of NHL-ready talent. BC knew it when he arrived, USA Hockey knew it when it selected him for the junior national team, and the Rangers knew it when they drafted and courted him. Brooks reported in his column that it’s “well known” that Sather refused to include Kreider’s rights in any deal to bring premier forward Rick Nash to Manhattan from Columbus.

If Brooks is right, and Kreider heads to the Big Apple for the Rangers’ best shot at a Stanley Cup since 1994, he’ll have a lot of folks expecting him to show why the Rangers shouldn’t have used him to ply Nash from the Blue Jackets.

That’s the kind of expectation Chris Kreider has never had much trouble meeting.

Games of the Week

BU vs. Northeastern, Friday/Saturday, 7 p.m.

In the final weekend of the season, there’s a lot at play, and the Terriers have a (relatively slim) chance to overtake BC for the top spot, while the Huskies are fighting for their playoff lives. Buckle up for the finale at Matthews Arena on Saturday.

Hockey East power rankings

  1. Boston College (23-10-1, 17-7-1 HEA) – The best team in the nation kept on rolling with a sweep of Providence, and has two games against last-place Vermont to sew up the regular season Hockey East title this weekend.
  2. Boston University (20-11-1, 16-8-1 HEA) – Another weekend swirling with controversy handled capably by the (remaining) Terriers, who despite losing defenseman Max Nicastro to an arrest on sexual assault charges and the announcement of a task force to study the culture around the team, swept Vermont to move within striking distance of first place in Hockey East as a home-and-home with Northeastern looms.
  3. Maine (19-11-3, 14-10-2 HEA) – It was a split with Northeastern last weekend, but the Black Bears punctuated it with a 7-1 pounding of the Huskies at Matthews Arena, spurred by two-goal games from Joey Diamond and Spencer Abbott. They’ve got one game, Saturday against rival UNH, to hang on to a home-ice playoff spot.
  4. UMass-Lowell (20-10-1, 15-9-0 HEA) – The River Hawks picked a bad time for a stumble, as their loss and tie to Merrimack dropped them to third with a home-and-home against Providence this weekend. They can still win the regular season Hockey East title, but only with unlikely collapses by BC and BU above them.
  5. Merrimack (15-9-6, 11-8-4 HEA) – The Warriors pulled out of a late-season dive with a solid 5-2 win over UMass-Lowell, then tied their Merrimack Valley rivals the next night to hold on to hopes of home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
  6.  New Hampshire (14-16-3, 11-13-2 HEA) – They squandered a chance to sneak into home-ice contention with last Saturday’s loss to UMass, but the win the night before clinched a postseason spot for the Wildcats in a year when that, surprisingly, wasn’t a given.
  7. Providence (12-16-4, 10-12-3 HEA) – There was a time when the Friars were the best team in the league, but the renaissance ran out of gas a little down the stretch, and now they have to survive a home-and-home against UMass-Lowell to hang on to their first postseason berth in four years.
  8. UMass (12-15-5, 8-13-4 HEA) – On the one hand, you have a Minuteman team that won’t quit, based on Saturday’s big 4-2 win over New Hampshire. On the other hand, you’ve got a team that’s tied with Northeastern for eighth, and could miss the Hockey East playoffs if two tough season-ending games against Merrimack don’t go the right way.
  9. Northeastern (12-15-5, 8-13-4 HEA) – The Huskies had a chance to get an edge on UMass in the race for the last Hockey East playoff spot after beating Maine Friday night (combined with the Minutemen’s loss to UNH), but the results flip-flopped on Saturday, and NU is right back in a deadlock with the Minutemen. It could very well come down to the teams’ records against whoever happens to be in first place when the dust settles on Saturday.
  10. Vermont (6-25-1, 3-21-1 HEA) – The Catamounts couldn’t do much in the spoiler role against BU, although a 2-0 lead early on Saturday surely gave the Terriers a scare before Vermont succumbed three minutes into overtime on Alexx Privitera’s strike.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com.