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Winging his way toward the pros

BC-bound speedster seen as 1st-rounder

NHL Central Scouting rates Chris Kreider the 14th-best North American in this year’s draft, which begins Friday night. NHL Central Scouting rates Chris Kreider the 14th-best North American in this year’s draft, which begins Friday night. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / June 25, 2009
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BOXFORD - Chris Kreider packed up his hopes yesterday, hopped in the family car, and headed for Montreal, where tomorrow night he’ll learn the next stop in what is turning into his excellent adventure.

Kreider, 18, is expected to be a first-round pick in the NHL draft, to be staged on the floor of the Bell Centre starting at 7 p.m. Based on standard predraft calculations - a blend of science, guesswork, and Potter-like sorcery - Kreider should be selected in the thick of the first round, anywhere from, say, the No. 10 pick to the early or mid 20s.

“There’s a little bit of a temptation,’’ said Kreider, when asked to guess where he’ll land, “but at the same time, I really have no idea, no clue how it will all fall. But that’s just part of what makes it so exciting.’’

What Kreider knows for sure is that he is headed to Boston College this fall as a freshman, a move that in itself came about as fast as one of his lightning dashes down the left wing. Just days ago, he wrapped up his scholastic career at Phillips Academy in Andover, and his move to The Heights is intended to improve both his game and, in some regard, his standing in tomorrow’s draft.

NHL scouts have long preferred to place their first-round markers, and reputations, on players who develop in the top Canadian junior ranks or in Eu rope. That’s not to say that US high schoolers need not apply, but rather that scouts typically apply a discount to players outside the Canadian and European development systems, which have busier playing schedules and often more talented players.

By going to BC, Kreider is signaling to pro scouts that he is ready to advance his game.

“For the teams considering him for the first round,’’ noted one scout with a top NHL team, “the move to BC will alleviate some of their development concerns - how fast the kid can be ready for the league. Just look at the job Jerry York has done developing players at BC. Is a kid going to develop faster in high school hockey or at a high-end top college?’’

According to a BC athletic department spokesman, Kreider has not formally informed the school he is enrolling for the fall semester, so York cannot comment, per NCAA rules.

Meanwhile, Kreider plans to be at The Heights as soon as possible, perhaps late next week, to begin his offseason strength and conditioning program. The planned family vacation to Bar Harbor? Downgraded from a probability to barely a possibility.

“I don’t think so,’’ said Kreider. “Maybe, but I’ve got to get ready.’’

Despite his high ranking in the draft - NHL Central Scouting has him rated the 14th-best North American skater in this draft - Kreider has a checklist of things he must improve in his game. He figures he has to add some muscle, although at 6 feet 2 1/2 inches and 200 pounds, he’ll arrive at The Heights as a fairly big man on campus.

For the most part, the checklist includes “everything,’’ he said.

“If I want to play in the fall, and if I want to play after college, I have to focus in the here and now,’’ said Kreider. “That means taking every workout seriously, and doing what I need to do to improve strength, speed, hands, vision. Hopefully all that will come with time, and playing under Coach York.’’

Rare gifts on display
Kathy and David Kreider were living in Charlestown when Chris, their elder of two children, began to play hockey. Chris remembers being among the more active Townie day care kids, always looking to play hockey, baseball, or stickball in the street. But it wasn’t until the Kreiders moved to Boxford that Chris began to play in organized youth hockey leagues, eventually getting more involved in the game as he worked his way up the Valley Junior Warrior program based in Lawrence.

Ken Cleary, his coach at various levels in the Valley program, has watched Kreider develop for nearly a decade.

“This is a good kid from a great family,’’ said Cleary, whose father, Ken, is a cousin of Bill and Bob Cleary, the noted Cambridge hockey duo. “A lot of kids out there are punks, but this kid is no punk. He’s just a great, great kid who is very committed to being a hockey player.’’

By the time Kreider entered the Valley program, he had worked his way through any desire to be a goaltender, then a center, and was a regular at left wing. Cleary saw no need to tamper with obvious success.

“Not with that kid’s speed,’’ said Cleary. “We got him out there at left wing and said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ And he went. Even at age 11 or 12, you wanted him out there in open ice with the puck. I go to games now, and when he gets the puck, people literally get out of their seats to see him take off.’’

Upon entering Masconomet Regional High School in the fall of 2005, Kreider added lacrosse to his athletic repertoire. He played it for his two years there and his two years at Andover after transferring (he repeated his sophomore year).

Stephen Carr, his Andover lacrosse coach, watched Kreider apply the same gifts of speed, acceleration, strength, and balance from his hockey game to the lacrosse field.

“When he came to us, he wanted to play attack,’’ recalled Carr. “And I’m sure he could have been excellent on attack. But when I saw him run, I said, ‘No, Chris, you are going to be a midfielder.’

“And after coaching him, I think I know what it must be like to coach a pro athlete. He’s just that much more athletic than anyone I’ve coached - for his speed, acceleration, strength, all his raw abilities.’’

Carr and his fellow lacrosse coaches, he said, kid among themselves that Kreider could just show up with a stick in his hand and play for a Division 1 college team.

“There is speed, and then there is game speed,’’ said Carr, who often played Kreider nearly two-thirds of the game, a demanding workload. “When he has the ball, or when he’s chasing someone as a short-stick midfielder, there’s just a different gear there with Chris.

“And his biggest strength is clearing the ball. As a coach, I’m almost ashamed to say our clearing play was, ‘Find Chris.’ We’d get the ball, I’d take a deep breath, and he’d get it done.’’

Student of the game
Dean Boylan, Phillips Andover’s hockey coach, is similarly effusive about his standout left winger. Like Carr, he emphasizes Kreider’s intelligence and diligence, scholastically and athletically.

“We knew we were getting a good player,’’ said Boylan, who will be at the Bell Centre tomorrow night for what amounts to Kreider’s hockey graduation ceremony. “But did any of us think he’d become as dominant as he became by the end of his sophomore season and throughout this year? No.

“He has a great ability to create separation, using his speed and size to his advantage. And his skills in the classroom are very, very strong. Just an excellent student. He works as hard in the classroom as he does at hockey.’’

Former NHL scout Matt Keator, now a local player agent, figures Kreider is the fastest NHL prospect to come out of New England since David A. Jensen, the local speedster who was chosen 20th overall by the Whalers in the ’83 draft. Keator has been following Kreider’s career for years and figures his blend of athleticism and intelligence makes him a sure-shot first-rounder.

“You look at Blake Wheeler,’’ said Keator, who represents Wheeler, who just wrapped up his rookie season with the Bruins, “and comparing them at the same age, Chris’s game is more defined and has more grit. On skating ability, he could be in the league right now. There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but this is a kid who will do the work and come along very quickly.’’

Tomorrow night in Montreal is another step along the way for Kreider. He will hear his name called, pull on the sweater of his new team, and make Chestnut Hill the next stop in his excellent adventure.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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