NHL exec calls Rangers prospect Kreider “legitimate NHL player” — will he be this season?

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Though he’s yet to play an NHL game, Chris Kreider has been a topic of conversation for many New York Rangers fans this year.

And it doesn’t sound like that’s going to change.

Kreider — New York’s first-round selection at the 2009 draft — will lead Boston College into the Frozen Four next week in Tampa. The 20-year-old scored 43 points in 42 games this year, leading the Eagles in scoring and emerging as one of the NCAA’s best talents.

Yet it’s not what Kreider’s doing at the collegiate level that has Rangers fans buzzing…it’s what he could do for the Blueshirts this season.

More, from ESPN (Insider):

After the tournament is decided he’ll be faced with one of the biggest decisions of his life, when the Rangers will no doubt approach him about signing an entry-level deal. It’s entirely possible that, if BC loses on Thursday, Kreider is in the Rangers’ lineup on Saturday in their regular season finale. A chance to burn a year off his entry-level deal could be enticement enough for him to leave college early.

One well-respected NHL executive raved about his speed when talking about Kreider’s game, and has no doubt he’s physically ready.

“That’s a legitimate NHL player,” he said.

Besides burning a year off his entry level deal, there’s an advantage to signing with the Rangers under the current CBA rules. The CBA expires in September, and few think the entry level contracts will look any better for the players under the new deal. It could get worse.

“The rules could all change,” said one NHL source. “It’s like the wild West.”

Kreider is so well thought of that Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported that the Rangers refused to part with him during their Rick Nash trade negotiations with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Bringing Kreider aboard would be a risky, somewhat unprecedented move as few underclassmen have made the leap from college hockey to the NHL in the same season. Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson did it 2007 after his University of Michigan season ended, but he joined a bad Kings team (third-worst in the NHL) and only played five games.

The Rangers, meanwhile, sit atop the Eastern Conference.

The wildcard in all of this is if Kreider — 6-foot-3, 220-pounds — will be able to make the physical and mental adjustment to play professionally. Some will say no given his age and lack of experience, while others will say yes given he’s already played with NHLers for Team USA at the 2011 World Hockey Championships (including Rangers center Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh.)

All that said, Kreider’s primary focus is helping Boston College win a National Championship, not help the Rangers come playoff time.

“You become more of a man over the course of the college career,” he said. “This is my playoff in a sense.”