The New York Rangers have the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the Stanley Cup playoffs (Thursday! On NHL Network! Catch it!), but the New York Rangers might be doomed. They face the Ottawa Senators in the first round. The Rangers went 1-2-1 against the Sens during the regular season. The Rangers have lost three of their last four. And in those losses, as in so many games this season, the Rangers struggled to score.
The NHL is no longer the scorer's league it was immediately after the lockout, so the Rangers' problem isn't unique. But their solution, on the cusp of the playoffs, certainly is: Chris Kreider, who signed a deal to join the Rangers on Tuesday. A rookie, in other words. Well, he's not even a rookie. He finished his Boston College career on Saturday night, after the NHL regular season ended, so he's a pre-rookie, joining the Rangers straight from college, like Dave Winfield and John Olerud once did in baseball. But he's joining them for the playoffs, the second season, when things get real.
The Rangers really believe in Kreider. By signing him to a standard three-year entry-level contract before the playoffs, management burned a cheap year under contract. After the playoffs, he'll have only two affordable years left on his deal. They wouldn't have added him just to bench him.
But why shouldn't they expect the pre-rookie to excel? Kreider is the pre-rookie who spanked college hockey this year, the leading scorer on the nation's best team. The pre-rookie who's among the fastest skaters in the world. The pre-rookie who, four years ago, sat five seats away from me in an 8 a.m. 15-person New Testament class in high school.
Age-related freakouts often confront the sports fan as time passes. And Kreider, who was born in 1991, will bring his share. Holy shit, this rookie was born in 1993! Holy shit, Derek Jeter's 37! Holy shit, everyone on the team is younger than I am! Every good young prospect reminds us we're a little bit closer to death, but hey, look, it's the Stanley Cup. (Is there an apposite New Testament verse for this? The fact that I can't think of one should tell you how my class with Kreider went. I would arrive having slept but four hours the night before, and I'd hide my face behind the hardbound New Oxford Annotated Bible while my lids sagged. Kreider was more chipper—it was his first year at school and the place hadn't crushed him yet like it crushed us all. He wore Timberlands and answered Ms. McCaslin's questions earnestly.)
Kreider will revive the Rangers' offense and second power-play unit. He scored more goals in college this season than Carl Hagelin ever did, and Hagelin had all four cracks at it. (Kreider's leaving after three seasons.) Like Hagelin, he's fast, but unlike Hagelin, he's big. Hagelin hasn't scored in his last 12 games—and only has three points in that span, despite his spot on the Rangers' top line—while Kreider has scored a bunch lately. He'll fix the scoring, and that'll save the team, and the Rangers'll win the Cup, and we'll all pretend that we knew four years ago that this was exactly what would happen for the Bible told us so.