Chris Kreider has had a very unique development path. He was drafted in the first round out of high school, won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships and went to two straight World Championships competitions as an under-20 player, which is rare. He was average at times in college, but was really impressive in his NHL debut during the 2011-12 postseason with the Rangers. Kreider had a mediocre first full pro season in 2012-13 between the AHL and NHL, but now his career has taken yet another turn, this one for the better, with a great start in 2013-14.
The progression he's made has been quite evident. "[Kreider] needed to learn defense and how to play without the puck," Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. "He's a very intelligent player who worked hard in the summer to improve." Clark said that because of how Kreider was able to dominate at the lower levels, positional work wasn't as important. "I used to go up to [Boston College head coach] Jerry York and ask how is our rover doing," Clark said in reference to Kreider's positional play.
I had Kreider ranked 41st in my summer Top 100 NHL Prospects after he performed below expectations last season. I had considered putting him even lower, but when I passed around my ranking to scouts for feedback I got one vigorous defense saying, "With his elite speed, shot and power potential, I still think he's one of the game's top prospects."
With the improvements in his game, Kreider has begun to fulfill that promise this season with the Rangers. He's been one of their best players and has the second highest GVT among Ranger skaters -- hockey's version of Wins Above Replacement -- without the positional adjustment, even though he's played fewer games than most of them. Kreider, never projected as a top-end, puck-possession type player, has also been the best possession forward for the Rangers, despite playing against the opposition's best players. This has so far been a true breakout season for Kreider.
Now, that hasn't been good enough for Kreider to jump into the lead spot in my Calder Trophy power rankings. Here's the list, which is based on a combination of quantitative and qualitative evaluations:
In my first set of rankings for this season, I saw Jones as the clear No. 1 rookie, but since then he's tailed off a bit in his play and had some ice time taken away by the return of Roman Josi to the lineup. His usage has subsequently ticked back up with Shea Weber's injury. It is close now between Jones and Tomas Hertl for the top spot, but Jones still remains the most impressive rookie so far. His combination of athletic skills and hockey sense are elite. That's not even taking into account where his game is relative to his age and position, which speaks very highly of his future potential.