PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 18: Marcus Kruger #16 of the Chicago Blackhawks gets checked by Mark Streit #32 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on March 18, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
As the offseason continues to drag on, we are continuing our look at the player evaluations for the 2013-14 Chicago Blackhawks. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? What can they improve upon for next season?
We will continue our evaluations with the centerpiece of the team’s penalty killing unit, as Marcus Kruger’s season is examined.
Early on in the season, Kruger seemed to be a bit out of sorts on the penalty killing side of things as the Hawks tried to find a viable replacement for the traded Michael Frolik. Eventually, the hodgepodge of players that skated alongside the Swedish forward ended up working out, and the team’s PK group became one of the league’s best once again.
Kruger also ended up with a career high in points for the Hawks, scoring eight times and adding 20 assists in the regular season. He managed to do this in spite of having offensively-challenged players like Brandon Bollig on his line. His Corsi For percentage of 51.4% was a bit of a decrease from the previous season, but all things considered it’s still a good mark for a fourth line center.
One other thing that Kruger showed improvement in during the past season: his face-offs taking ability. Working with Yanic Perreault, Kruger jumped from a 46.2% success rate in the dot to a 56.7% success rate, meaning that he and his teammates were winning possession of the puck more often and getting the offense going in the right direction.
The Blackhawks were a team in desperate need of a second line center last season, and unfortunately for them, Kruger wasn’t able to fit the bill. He is a solid passer with some offensive instincts, but when he was given opportunities in the top six he largely didn’t succeed.
Of course, that’s more of a minor quibble than anything else, but it is something to keep in mind when Kruger approaches free agency in the near future.
Best Game of 2013-14:
Kruger had several really great games on special teams, but he really put everything together in a March 6 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. In that game, Kruger had two assists and helped the Hawks to a perfect 4-for-4 performance on the penalty killing side of things.
Outlook for Next Season:
The Blackhawks ended up getting a second line center in Brad Richards in the offseason, and eventually Teuvo Teravainen will force himself into that role. Having both of those players ahead of him will take a bunch of pressure off of Kruger, and he will be looked at as a guy who can play both third and fourth line center in the coming season.
Another interesting thing to keep an eye on with the forward is who his linemates will be on the fourth line. Bollig is gone thanks to a trade to the Calgary Flames, and Ben Smith could wind up on the third line with Andrew Shaw depending on how Joel Quenneville wants to set up his team. In a best case scenario, Kruger would get to keep Smith, and perhaps a player like Peter Regin or Jeremy Morin would end up on the line with him.
Any way they slice it, Kruger’s main impact won’t be at even strength, but rather on the penalty kill. The Hawks would be smart to line him up with Smith in that role, and if that’s the case then the team will likely resume its place among the best PK units in the game.