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Hartnett: Chris Kreider, A Star Is Born

'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Chris Kreider is only six games into his NHL career, barely removed from playing Division I College hockey and a day away from turning 21.

Already, he's adapted to NHL life quicker than any player in recent memory outside of Sidney Crosby.

I remember witnessing Crosby's NHL debut against the New Jersey Devils in October 2005. A was a raw, skinny Crosby was able to register his first NHL assist.  Underneath the inexperience, it was obvious that he possessed something entirely different than everyone else on the ice aside from legendary line-mate Mario Lemieux.

You can tell right away what separates the 'great ones.' For Crosby, it was his remarkable hands and unteachable on-ice vision.

Kreider is an entirely different player, blessed with a unique combination of size, speed and a powerful shot -- a rarity among NHL stars. The only player that comes to mind who entered the NHL with such an impressive package of skills was Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001.

Most stars around the league either have lightning speed or a powerful shot. It's uncommon for a player to possess both of these characteristics at an optimal level. When you find a player who has both of these traits, you've got something unbelievably good. John Tortorella must be pinching himself in disbelief at what he's seeing from the young Kreider.

He also has terrific hockey smarts too, which he displayed on his third period game-winning goal.

Kreider noticed the Capitals going on a line change and alertly raced down ice on a breakaway. He set his target and blasted a slap-shot with the might of 1,000 hammers past Capitals' net-minder Braden Holtby.

NBC announcer Pierre McGuire was amazed by what he was seeing.  "We're seeing a star born in front of our eyes. This kid's 6'4", 225 pounds and right now, he's the fastest player in the league. This kid's all-world," McGuire beamed.

Chris Kreider wicked slappah goal. Washington Capitals vs NY Rangers 4/28/12 NHL Hockey by Fred Murtz on YouTube

Kreider's game-winning goal puts him in a class of his own. He's the only player in NHL history to score his first two career goals as playoff game-winning goals.

The Garden faithful immediately chanted his name after the go-ahead goal, much to the disbelief to Kreider. "It's not a moment that I have daydreamed about, having the crowd chant my name, but it's still a pretty surreal moment," he said following the game.

Imagine Andrew Luck being throw directly into the NFL playoffs without a regular season game under his belt and barely given any time to study the Indianapolis Colts' playbook. I can't imagine he'd fare as well as Kreider has during the 2012 NHL playoffs.

Kreider isn't just surviving in the NHL playoffs, he's turning the heads of his Rangers teammates and the entire hockey world.

He's completely won over the veterans inside the Rangers' locker room who can't help but be impressed with what Kreider has instantly brought to the table. Even 11-year NHL veteran Brad Richards is taken aback by what Kreider is accomplishing.

"To be honest, it's surprising because this is a pretty high level he jumps into. It shows his learning curve and his hockey IQ. He shows something every night. Let him keep doing that every night, making big plays and doing what he's doing," Richards stated.

Dan Girardi believes that Kreider has been an immediate fit. "Chris has played well for us since he's been here. Today he proved once again why he deserves to be in the lineup. He fits right in with us and obviously, he's such a good skater and offensively talented. We're just lucky to have him," Girardi explained.

Throwing a kid of this ability onto a team that led the Eastern Conference with 109 points makes you wonder what the Rangers are capable of achieving with Kreider added to the mix.

Henrik Lundqvist's superior ability in net and a gritty defense that surrenders few goals have been the hallmarks of the Rangers under Tortorella's watch.

Their powerplay and goalscoring have been largely inconsistent.  With Kreider joining Ryan Callahan, Marian Gaborik and Richards, the Rangers might have enough natural firepower to finally realize their Stanley Cup ambitions.

How impressed are you with Kreider's impact? Can Kreider help lift the Rangers to the next level? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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