When he takes the ice this morning for his first National Hockey League practice, Chris Kreider may finally — finally — be able to wrap his helmeted head around what has transpired the last 24 hours.
The 20-year-old winger from Boxford signed his long-awaited first professional contract with the New York Rangers yesterday afternoon, a three-year entry level deal.
After helping Boston College to its second NCAA hockey title in three years this past Saturday night, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Kreider will be eligible to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs when the top-seeded Rangers open against the No. 8 Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
So, has it all sunk in yet for the Rangers' first round draft pick (19th overall) from the 2009 Entry Draft?
"Not at all," Kreider said last night while driving to the Big Apple. "One minute I'm at (yesterday's Boston College championship) parade, next minute I'm in a car going to New York. It's surreal."
The entry-level deal — for which one year will be burned as soon as he practices with the team — is dictated by the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement for players ages 18-21 who sign contracts.
The 2007 Salem News Player of the Year from Masconomet Regional, Kreider is eligible for the Stanley Cup playoffs despite just signing his contract because the Rangers placed him on their "reserve list" prior to the NHL's trade deadline on Feb. 27.
Speculation had run rampant as far back as the end of his sophomore season a year ago that the Rangers wanted Kreider to turn pro. Throughout this past season, rumors persisted that as soon as Boston College's season ended, Kreider would be wearing Ranger Blue.
"I can honestly say I never thought about (turning pro) much until our year was over," Kreider, who won't turn 21 until April 30, said. "I knew there'd be a decision I'd have to make then, but that's all that I accepted.
"I wasn't focused on what I was going to do; my (BC) teammates and coaches helped me put it all off and forget about it," added Kreider, who led the Eagles in goals (23) and points (45). "I think I did a nice job playing and not worrying about the decision at end of the season."
As it turned out, the Eagles delayed those plans by reaching the NCAA final for the second time in Kreider's three years at The Heights, knocking off Ferris State Saturday night, 4-1, in Tampa, Fla.
"(The Rangers) handled it very well. They let me enjoying winning the title with my team for a long while," Kreider said yesterday. "Then we got the ball rolling (on a contract)."
Player agent Matt Keator, who represents such NHLers as Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek (as well as Kreider's BC teammates Paul Carey and Barry Almeida), handled most of the negotiations on Kreider's behalf.
"We got involved at the end, but Matt did a great job getting it all done," said Kreider.
Rangers assistant general manager Jeff Gorton told BlueshirtsUnited.com that the team is thrilled to finally have Kreider in the fold.
"You can't emphasize enough how important it is how much winning he has done already in his career," Gorton said. "When you win consistently at a young age, like Chris has, it becomes your mindset. In addition we love his desire to consistently try and improve his all-around game."
Kreider is now one of 15 forwards on the Rangers' roster. One of those, Mats Zuccarello, is out indefinitely after having left wrist surgery recently; another, 6-foot-8, 270-pound enforcer John Scott, had just one assist and 53 penalty minutes in extremely limited action this season and likely won't dress for any playoff games.
He is the youngest player on the Rangers roster, 10 months behind both Derek Stepan and defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
"I've been told to come in and play the way I can, to play hard and earn whatever ice time I can get," said Kreider. "The way I see it, it's a good opportunity for me to put my head down, work as hard as I can and be a sponge, listening and learning from guys who obviously had an unbelievable year."
Two Ranger forwards, Stepan (whom Kreider was teammates with on Team USA for the gold medal-winning 2010 World Junior Championships squad) and former Boston College star Brian Boyle both reached out to Kreider yesterday to offer their support. "I really, really appreciated that," he said. "Both are great guys and said if I had any questions to give them a call.
Kreider — who'll be wearing a new number today since his college number (19) is worn by Rangers superstar center Brad Richards — plans to learn as much as he can about the pro game in a short amount of time.
"This is a great, great learning opportunity for me," said Kreider. "I'm going to try and keep my mouth shut and listen as much as I can. I know it's all hockey, all the time for me."