It was a case of diminishing returns and diminishing ice time for Chris Kreider, returned to the AHL Connecticut Whale yesterday after his latest four-game stay as a Ranger, which likely will be his last for a spell.

“I’ve said all along that I think Chris has a lot to learn about the game and a lot to learn about being a pro, so this isn’t a shock to me,” coach John Tortorella said before his team’s 4-1 victory over the Lightning at the Garden. “I think he has a lot of attributes, but me playing him four minutes or seven minutes isn’t going to help him.”

Kreider had been assigned to the Whale on Feb. 15 in order to get playing time, but was recalled after just one day and one game when Rick Nash first felt symptoms in the aftermath of the blow he had taken from Milan Lucic in Boston on Feb. 12.

Kreider was a healthy scratch against the Capitals on Feb. 17 as Nash remained in the lineup, but Kreider played in the following four games in place of No. 61. His ice time decreased by the match, from 14:37 to 12:43 to 10:09 to 4:43 against Winnipeg as Tortorella’s faith in him waned.

The winger, who scored five goals in 18 playoff games last season as a 21-year-old fresh off the Boston College campus, recorded two points (1-1) in 11 games this year, both in New Jersey on Feb. 5. He had trouble winning battles in traffic and in using his speed to create space for himself and his big shot.

“Chris has been on the puck, but the next step is sustaining and coming up with pucks,” Tortorella said Tuesday.“We try to use [Carl Hagelin] as an example to him, that Hags doesn’t bang players all over the place but he ends up getting to pucks and getting pucks. “Chris is getting there, but he’s still not getting there. That’s the next step.”

The next step will have to be taken in Connecticut.