NEW YORK -- When the New York Rangers moved forward to sign Chris Kreider to an entry-level deal just days after his junior season at Boston College ended earlier this month, they knew what they had on paper in the 20-year-old winger: a first-round pick with size, speed and skill, regarded across the board as a "can't-miss" prospect.
What they did not know, however, was how he would react when forced into the fire.
On Thursday night, they found out.
Despite being held off the scoresheet in the Rangers' 2-1 win over the Senators, he delivered a dazzling performance that helped lead the Blueshirts past Ottawa in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden and on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"He has no fear. That's what I like about him," coach John Tortorella said of the rookie. "The biggest thing is his mindset. He's not here to test the waters. He's here to make a difference."
And with some of the Rangers' key players struggling to make an impact -- namely star sniper Marian Gaborik, who was limited to one goal and two assists in the series -- Kreider stepped up under dizzying circumstances with the poise and precision of a seasoned pro in only his fifth NHL game.
The former first-round pick made a terrific play that led to the Rangers' pivotal first goal in the second period. Kreider forced Ottawa's Nick Foligno to cough up the puck in the neutral zone, which led to Marc Staal's second-period marker for a 1-0 Rangers lead at 4:46.
"That was something we talked about, trying to restrict time and space, backcheck. I just tried to stay busy on the stick and I was lucky enough to get a piece of it and I ended up falling and tripping him," Kreider said with a sheepish chuckle. "It wasn't a pretty play, but the guys capitalized on it."
The Rangers continued to dictate play from there, building a 2-0 lead on defenseman Dan Girardi's goal later in the period, but the Senators threatened in the third.
And with the Rangers' white-knuckle grip on their one-goal lead, Tortorella did not opt to simply deploy the veterans to protect it.
Instead, he had Kreider out on the ice in the last minute of the game, a greater testament to his play than any point he could've recorded on the official scoresheet.
"You saw where I had him tonight at the end of the game," Tortorella said. "He was playing; a few other guys weren't. He deserved to be there."
Ten days removed from his NHL debut -- one in which he became gassed from overexertion on his first shift -- Kreider has already made stark progress. Instead of showing reluctance, he has asserted himself. Instead of struggling with pace, he is using his trademark speed.
"He's got great legs. That's what makes Chris effective," Stepan said.
"He skates onto pucks and he creates loose pucks. He did it all night for us."
Kreider's last few weeks have been nothing short of a whirlwind. He joined the Rangers only three days after securing his second NCAA championship with the Eagles. When he chose to leave school and begin his professional career, a tough choice for the academic-minded Kreider, this was ultimately the reason.
What he has seen from this team in a character-testing, best-of-seven series has only affirmed that decision.
"I guess you kind of hear horror stories at college or other levels about how the NHL is a business and guys are only worried about themselves. That may be true, but it isn't true on this team, from what I've seen. Guys are really committed to each other and winning. It's refreshing and it's awesome and it's hard not to want to be a part of it."