Chris Kreider was one of the most highly-touted incoming freshmen this season and he hasn’t disappointed. It was the second half of the season that Kreider began to firmly establish himself as rising star. A member of Team USA’s gold medal-winning World Junior Championship squad, Kreider has played in 36 games at Boston College to date, posting 21 points (14 goals, seven assists). His outstanding season also earned him a spot on Hockey East’s All-Rookie Team.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Chris Kreider at Ford Field after practice on Wednesday.
HF: You’ve gone from the international stage to college hockey’s biggest stage, so how has that been for you?
CK: It’s been a crazy ride. (laughs) It’s just been an amazing experience for me.
HF: For you personally, what are some of the similarities and differences between playing on the World Junior stage and playing on the Frozen Four stage?
CK: I think the ice here will be similar to what it was at the World Juniors. When there are so many people, the ice tends to get a little soft. Our coaches always say that when the ice gets that way, you have to play a man’s game and can’t play soft. You have to play power hockey. We experienced that when we played at Fenway, so I think we’ll have to rely on that experience.
I think the big difference is that the college players are older and a lot stronger than most of the players that played at the World Juniors. They have that man strength and because they’re older, I think they have more experience. I also think that the college game is a little faster too.
HF: You played well in the first half of the season, but you’ve played exceedingly well in the second half. What has happened to enable you to do that? Was it having become acclimated with the college game or the experience of having played at the World Juniors or both?
CK: I think it was a combination of both. I’ve been able to get more games under my belt and am playing more games than I did from the high school that I came from. I was getting more competition than I was before. I think I was also kind of getting acclimated too because there was an adjustment period. Because the game is faster, my timing had to be switched up. I couldn’t get away with things here that I could get away with in high school. It’s forced me to become a better and more well-rounded player. That was something that I kind of wasn’t coming in because I was more of a north-south kind of guy that just relied on my speed to skate by players. So everything changed and that forced me to change coming in as well. When I played at the World Juniors, I was given a different role in a different environment than I had with Boston College and was able to bring it back with me. Once I was back with Boston College, the adjustment became a little easier and I was getting more games under my belt too.
HF: You’ve been playing much of the year with Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes. The three of you have some great chemistry together. What makes it work for you guys?
CK: Well, both of them communicate so well and that allows me to ask them questions. They let me know when I’m screwing up, which is pretty often (laughs). I’m still learning the game and they’ve played more games than I have, so they let me know what to do and where I should be in a productive and positive way. They aren’t negative and they’ve been good teachers as well as teammates. They’re easy to communicate with and have helped me learn how to cycle the puck, which was something that I didn’t really learn much about in prep school. I think Ben and Jimmy are two of the best players down low in college hockey and they definitely know what they’re talking about too.
HF: Have the seniors like Ben Smith and Matt Lombardi been able to help you to not only keep things in perspective but also keep you grounded? If so, in what ways?
CK: I’d say so, although I wouldn’t say that it was a huge problem with me coming in, especially when I first started. (laughs) I think I recognized early on how big of a jump that it was going to be. I didn’t come in with a ton of confidence but they made me feel extremely comfortable. Ben, Matt and the rest of the seniors have certainly made the transition easier for me because it’s a different level of hockey here. When you feel like you’ve lost your confidence, they’re always there to pat you on your back and guide you in the right direction. But it’s up to you to make sure that you work hard and get back on the right track. So they’ve certainly shown me that.
HF: What has been one area where you feel that your game has grown and what one area has been a work in progress?
CK: I think my defensive zone play has gotten a lot better, especially coming from prep school because “D” zone was kind of an afterthought. I felt that I was a defensive liability when I came in, but I think that’s changed. I’ve learned a lot and feel that I still have a lot to learn about playing in the defensive zone. So I think it’s come a long way.
As far as what area I’m working on, there are a lot of areas. (laughs) I think my timing has to get better along with stopping and starting with the puck. Transitioning used to be a strong point of my game, but now it’s a weak one because I used to be able to bury my head and I can’t do that skating at full speed at this level. My teammates are always riding me about that, so I think I have to improve on that. I also work a lot on my shot with the coaches too.
HF: Boston College is one of the best transition teams in the country. So I would guess that playing on team that is so good in that aspect has made it easier for you.
CK: Yes, it has. I certainly have a real good example by which to follow. So it does make it easier when you have teammates that are so good at it.
HF: Have the New York Rangers been keeping tabs on you throughout the year?
CK: Yes, I spoke with their Director of Player Development just before we got here. He spoke with all of us prospects that are here at the tournament. Outside of that, they chime in here and there, but have basically left me alone.
HF: Another Rangers prospect that’s also here that was with you at the World Juniors as well was Derek Stepan. So what sort of relationship do you two have?
CK: We’re pretty good friends. I actually had the chance to play with him at the Rangers development camp over the summer. I didn’t really play on the same line with him at the World Juniors, but I know that whoever plays with Derek will get a lot of points because he can move the puck better than else that I’ve played with. We’re really good friends off the ice and it seems like I see him everywhere too. (laughs)