GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Chris Kreider parked himself on the ice at the MSG Training Center, a giant among the little people, feeding pucks to kids for shots at an unguarded mini net near one end of the red line.
“I was lucky growing up in the Boston area to skate with a few pro guys when I was young,” the 25-year-old left wing said Wednesday before skating with these 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds at the Rangers’ youth hockey camp. “A chance like this, it was always a blast when those guys came out. It was such a positive influence.”
The Blueshirts’ brass sees Kreider as a positive because it just gave the restricted free agent a four-year, $18.5 million deal last Friday, avoiding arbitration. He took it as a relief and a sign from management.
“Four years as opposed to a potential bridge deal, it’s nice,” Kreider said. “It’s kind of a vote of confidence, I guess. It’s the place I want to be.”
With the contract out of the way, Kreider will now seek more consistency. He had a better second half than first last season, but he really didn’t take a step forward overall. In 2014-15, he posted 21 goals, 25 assists and a plus-24. Last season, he posted 21 goals, 22 assists and a plus-10.
On this hot July day, he admitted a cold start scoring in the face of his “expectations to produce” got to him.
“I was playing well, pucks weren’t going in,” Kreider said. “You let that get in your head a little bit. … The next thing you know, you’re not playing well and pucks aren’t going in. So it’s just staying with the process, picking a course and continuing to do the right things.”
Kreider said he “got away from the player I know I am,” and that he wants to be a 6-3, 226-pound “physical force.”
“It’s what I should’ve been doing last year and it’s what I will be doing this year — big, strong, fast, mean, imposing, getting to the net and playing a power forward game … north-south,” Kreider said.
The Rangers went south in the playoffs, taking the first-round exit ramp against Pittsburgh. Their big offseason move so far was dealing a center for a younger center. Last week, they exported Derick Brassard to Ottawa and imported Mika Zibanejad in the return package.
“Initially, it’s incredibly hard to see Brass go because you know what an amicable guy he is and what a great guy in the room and what a great player he is,” Kreider said. “… On paper, [Zibanejad] looks [like] an incredible player. … So I think it’s a great trade for both teams.”