Replacing Kreider Won’t Be Easy For Rangers

Chris Kreider is one of many athletes who are fond of saying “next man up” when an injury strikes.

Now the “next man up” will be replacing Kreider for an indefinite period of time.

The Rangers’ 26-year-old left winger was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm after he left Wednesday’s 1-0 shootout win over Washington in the first period.

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Blood clots aren’t broken bones or sprained joints – the timetable for return, or even for medical clearance for contact, varies from case to case. Unlike those other injuries, too, blood clots can be life-threatening and career-altering.

Many NHL players have gone through blood-clot issues, from Steven Stamkos and his Tampa Bay teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy – who had surgery and missed two months – to Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis, a former Ranger, whose career was cut short due to blood clots.

So the concern for Kreider is mostly about his well-being, about his health.

Replacing Kreider the player won’t be as easy as “next man up” though. When he’s on top of his game, Kreider is a rare blend of speed and power, with a hard shot. You don’t find those combinations very often.

Also, like the concussion Mika Zibanejad suffered, Kreider’s loss could affect the power play. With Zibanejad, the Rangers missed his right-handed shot on the power play. With Kreider out, they will be without a power-play specialist who has worked hard and excelled at two areas – retrieving pucks – especially off faceoffs – and more importantly, the skill and fortitude of setting screens in front of opposition goalies.

Fortunately for the Rangers, they have Rick Nash, who can fill those roles but that will leave a hole in the second unit.

The Rangers survived the loss of Zibanejad for nine games (going 5-3-1), and they have in the past gotten through serious injuries. None more notable than Henrik Lundqvist’s blood vessel injury in 2014-15, during which backup Cam Talbot took the reins in goal and guided the Rangers to the Presidents’ Trophy.

Kreider had 11 goals and 22 points while in playing all 37 games this season.

“Just before the first period (Wednesday), he felt some swelling in his arm,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Thursday. “The docs checked him out and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then between the first and the second, it got to a point where this was out of the ordinary, so they sent him to the hospital to have it checked out and found this out. He’s going through some other tests today.”

Vigneault mentioned Jimmy Vesey, a power forward and, like Kreider, a left winger as someone who has been wanting more ice time and will have to fill in some of Kreider’s role. Also, the team is waiting the return of the injured Jesper Fast, who isn’t expected to play this weekend, but could make the two-game trip to Arizona and Vegas.

Vinni Lettieri, who had an impressive training camp, was recalled from Hartford (AHL) Thursday as the Rangers prepared for a visit to Detroit Friday and then the Winter Classic against Buffalo at Citi Field on New Year’s Day.

Lettieri is a good skater and, importantly, another right-handed shot. Vigneault also said Lettieri, unlike many of his forwards, has a “shoot-first mentality.”

“He’s been playing well,” Vigneault said. “A young guy that came in and I think everybody remembers the skill set and the speed during training camp. He’s had some very good moments in Hartford. He’s a young player that our coaches there and our scouts feel is a good prospect, and he’s going to get his first look at the NHL.”

Lettieri, the next man up in this case, practiced on the second power-play unit Thursday.

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