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Hartnett: Rangers' Kreider Given Chance To Force Himself Into Tortorella's Plans

'Rangers Inside And Out'
By Sean Hartnett
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Thursday night will mark rookie Chris Kreider's third stint with the New York Rangers in 2013. After being yo-yoed between Madison Square Garden and Connecticut for much of the season, the 21-year-old Kreider will be given the chance to force his way back into John Tortorella's plans following the indefinite loss of forward Brian Boyle.

"I'm looking forward to trying to seize that opportunity," Kreider stated to the gathered media on Thursday at the Rangers' Tarrytown, N.Y., practice facilities.

Kreider's Playoff Audition Starts Now

Kreider will be inserted into the Rangers' lineup against the Florida Panthers at a crucial moment for the Blueshirts, who sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The 46-point Rangers are currently even on points with the chasing Winnipeg Jets and are only separated by a less-games-played tiebreaker.

For Kreider, this will be one final audition before the 2013 NHL playoffs. We all remember how he brightly he shined while debuting on the 2012 playoff stage by allowing his natural abilities to take over. Kreider's dazzling array of skills is a rare package. Few players possess the natural jet-like speed, powerful shot and formidable size that the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Massachusetts native brings to the table.

It's just a matter of when Kreider is able to put it all together in the mold of a consistent, dependable NHL regular. During his previous 17 NHL games in 2013, Kreider struggled with positioning on all areas of the ice, was poor in puck possession and failed to utilize his size.  His two goals and one assist in 17 games wasn't the kind of production the Rangers were expecting, either.

All of that, though, is in the rearview mirror, as he now has the opportunity to take advantage of Boyle's absence.

Kreider is aware of what's required of him to stay in the NHL, rather than returning to AHL action in Connecticut.

"I think we talked about check-finishing a little bit," Kreider mentioned. "If you're not on the scoreboard, you're still having an impact -- that kind of thing. So (I'm) definitely focused on check-finishing, especially on the back-check, separating guys from pucks."

Boyle Out Indefinitely

The Rangers confirmed on Thursday that Boyle is out indefinitely with a "lower body injury." Boyle left Tuesday's game against the Flyers after suffering an apparent right leg injury in the first period. He was later seen wearing a brace underneath his suit pants. There isn't an official timetable for when the 28-year-old forward is expected to return.

Once the Rangers acquired Ryane Clowe, Derick Brassard and injured winger Derek Dorsett at the 2013 NHL trade deadline, I expected Kreider to stay in the minors for the remainder of the season. That won't be the case, considering Boyle's health and the Rangers' need for an offensive jumpstart.

All season long, Tortorella has spoken in his own words about his fear of "force feeding" both Kreider and fellow outstanding American youngster J.T. Miller. There are plenty of examples of promising players whose careers suffered because their development process was accelerated too quickly.

Kreider Driven To Prove Himself At The NHL Level

"Everyone wants to make it to this level," Kreider said of the opportunity to return to the NHL. "But it's not something that I sat there and harped on in Hartford. I think it's a driving and motivating factor."

When Kreider first made his mark during the playoffs, he was very aware of knowing his place in the locker room and being respectful. That hasn't changed. What may have changed is his less-burdensome approach to the game.

"Every single day I play hockey, so I feel pretty blessed," he stated.

He is being thrown into the thick of the playoff race and his growing pains might be a little less obvious this time around. Should Kreider rekindle his game-changing talents at the NHL level, it will be a tremendous boost toward the Rangers' chances of locking up a playoff seed and perhaps doing damage in the NHL playoffs.

Do you think Kreider will put it all together in his third stint with the Rangers this season? Can the raw 21-year-old be a difference-maker? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.

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