Chris Kreider is back with the Rangers.
Whether he stays is up to him.
“[The staff in Connecticut] think he’s progressing,” head coach John Tortorella said in his pregame press conference Thursday afternoon. Kreider was called up from AHL Connecticut Wednesday afternoon following an eight-game stretch in which he scored six goals.
He skated on the third line with J.T. Miller and Brian Boyle against the Panthers.
Tortorella has routinely preached patience with Kreider. The coach’s concern is that the winger’s development is not impeded.
“If there’s one thing I gave him when he was up here last was I just needed him to move his legs more to get to pucks. He did that. The next step is sustaining — having the puck and making an offensive play. He won’t have to worry about defense that much if he can use his assets,” Tortorella said. “Bring some pucks to the net, who knows what happens? Use his shot. So I think he progressed in a couple things I asked him to do. The next [step] is sustaining.
“He starts sustaining down there, started creating a little more offense. I’m real anxious to see him play. This is the right type of process he needs to go through. I hope he takes a step in the right direction and keeps on growing.”
To bolster offensive production on the fourth line, the coaching staff put Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern and Darroll Powe together.
“We need more out of it. I think we need more out of Taylor,” Tortorella said. Pyatt has not recorded a point since Feb. 26. He has four goals and six points in 29 games this season.
“I haven’t used him a lot other than a lot of penalty killing,” Tortorella said. “I thought [Pyatt] played really well in the third period [against the Devils] when we’re protecting a lead. I thought that was his best 20 minutes in the last little while.
“We just need some grind out of them, like to see them chip in a goal. Just trying to get us into a more consistent mode as far as offensive zone time.”
The 2013 season has not been kind to the Panthers. The reigning Southeast Division champions entered last night’s game with an NHL-worst 8-16-6 record, and were without center Stephen Weiss, right wing Kris Versteeg, left wing Eric Selleck and goaltender Jose Theodore.
Weiss and Versteeg underwent season-ending wrist and knee surgery, respectively, while Selleck was serving a league-mandated one-game suspension for leaving the bench and starting a fight with 3:02 left in the Panthers’ 4-1 win Tuesday night. Theodore suffered a torn groin in Florida’s 3-2 loss to Carolina on March 3, and he is not expected to return until the end of the season.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.