Chris Kreider stepped into a crowded Rangers dressing room and sheepishly skirted his stall, looking for a place to stash his freshly-worn helmet. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh was sitting in his spot conducting post-practice interviews and Kreider looked reluctant to impose.
After all, he is the newbie joining an Eastern Conference-leading Rangers team. And as the 20-year-old prospect who decided Tuesday to leave school and turn pro, he is well aware the onus is on him to prove he belongs.
“They definitely sent the message that if you want to play, you’re going to have to prove that you’re ready to play and you’re going to have to earn your ice time,” Kreider said after his first practice with the team. “Which is how I think it should be.”
The former first-round draft pick (2009, 19th overall) signed with the Rangers on Tuesday after winning his second national title with Boston College in a win over Ferris State in the championship game on Saturday.
Kreider took one night to celebrate the victory, then settled down with his family to make a decision. He made sure he wouldn’t lose any credits -- obtaining his college degree was important to him -- and then ultimately opted to forgo his senior season.
In doing so, he joins a top-seeded Rangers club that opens the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday against the Ottawa Senators.
Kreider said he has no expectations about playing time and John Tortorella was even less forthcoming about the young winger’s role with the team.
The fiery coach said he would make one statement regarding Kreider and refused to take questions about the club’s new addition.
“We’re happy he’s here, and he’s a Ranger. From there, we go day-by-day,” he said. “This is a young man that we feel has a great future and it started with us today. He signed, he’s up and we move on with our business.”
Kreider described the quick turnaround from college champion to a newly-signed NHL’er as “surreal,” and understands the level of play expected, especially on the precipice of the playoffs, will be demanding.
The 6-3, 225-pound Kreider led the Eagles with 23 goals and 22 assists in 44 games this season. Known for his size and speed, he’ll try to utilize both if given the chance to make his NHL debut in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
What can people expect?
“An up-tempo energetic game,” he said. “I try to keep my feet moving. I know that I’m a pretty big body so I’ll just try to wreak as much havoc as I can if I do get to play.”
Kreider’s new teammates have embraced him since he arrived. Fellow Boston College alum Brian Boyle called him Tuesday to welcome him to the team and offer his help acclimating.
“We’re trying to make it as comfortable and as seamless as we can for him,” Boyle said.
Kreider, who skated on a line with Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko and Boyle, said he’ll try to be a sponge and soak up all the new information.
Hopefully, the playing time will come. But he knows he’s going to have to work for that opportunity.
“Those guys have earned it,” he said, “and I still need to earn that respect.”