Blackhawks breakdown: Marcus Kruger

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Blackhawks breakdown: Marcus Kruger

CSNChicago.com Blackhawks Insider Tracey Myers and PGL host Chris Boden will evaluate the 2011-12 performance of each player on the Hawks roster. One breakdown will occur every weekday in numerical order.

In his rookie season, Marcus Kruger played in 71 games and averaged 15 minutes and 24 seconds of ice time. He scored nine goals with 17 assists for 26 points and finishes plus-11. He had a record of 284-335 on faceoffs for 45.9 percent and was credited with 26 hits. Kruger did not score a point in the playoffs and finished minus-4 in the six-game series vs. Phoenix.

Boden's take: He found a nice niche skating between Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Sharp late in the regular season. For a couple of weeks, that was the Hawks' most dangerous line, and while he didn't light up the scoresheet like his wingers, his defensive responsibility, speed and tenacity in the offensive zone helped him accumulate half of his season point total over the final 27 games (six goals, seven assists, 13 points in that span). But that line didn't even last all of Game 1 vs. Phoenix, and Kruger was completely shut out in six postseason games. He's part of a 2009 draft class that also includes Nick Leddy, Dylan Olsen, Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin (via trade). The other four went in the first two rounds, Kruger not until the fifth (like Andrew Shaw a year ago).

Myers' take: Was Kruger ready for second-line center duties this season? That remains up for debate, but he spent a decent amount of time there nonetheless. Coach Joel Quenneville was high on him all season, and Kruger was solid in many of his outings. Well say this for him: he plays center with a mission, carrying the puck in, shoveling it off to a linemate and then driving straight toward the net. Its a quality fellow Swede Stalberg pointed to as a bonus when they played together some this season. Remember that Kruger was still a rookie, and for a first season his wasnt bad.

2012-13 Expectations

Chris: As he enters the final year of his entry-level contract (900,000 Cap hit), he enters a crucial offseason after his run with Sweden in the World Championships ended. He's listed at 181 pounds and his frame would seem capable of carrying another 10-15 lbs. It's almost necessary the way he was thrown around like a rag doll at times -- part of the reason he missed 11 games. He's highly regarded by the coaching staff and management, but here's the question about his role: If Patrick Kane is your No. 2 center and Dave Bolland is No. 3, is fourth-line center where he's best suited? Or is there a trade made involving him or someone else?

Tracey: As we said before, Kruger has no problem driving to the net. Thats good. But at his size -- 6 foot, 181 lbs. -- hes going to take a pounding. Actually, he already has, as he had two concussions already in 2011-12. Opinions differ on next seasons No. 2 center. GM Stan Bowman was extolling the virtues of Kane there while Quenneville penned Kruger there. Kruger definitely has room to grow, literally and figuratively; he needs to put more weight on that frame. If he does that, and keeps his style of play, hell be a solid center on one of those Blackhawks lines.

How do you feel about this evaluation? As always, be sure to chime in with your thoughts by commenting below and check out some of Kruger's highlights above.

Previously: Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, SteveMontador, Sean O'Donnell, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Patrick Sharp, DanielCarcillo, Andrew Brunette
Up next: Brendan Morrison

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial. 

Blackhawks pull off stunner, trade Niklas Hjalmarsson to Coyotes

Blackhawks pull off stunner, trade Niklas Hjalmarsson to Coyotes

Niklas Hjalmarsson has been part of the Blackhawks’ renaissance since the rebuild began in the mid-2000s, a longtime steady presence on the blue line who has had some clutch moments in the Blackhawks’ three Stanley Cup runs. But on Friday, the player with one of the Blackhawks’ best contracts was sent packing.

Hjalmarsson was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin on Friday morning. With Hjalmarsson, the Blackhawks give up a tremendous defenseman with a winning pedigree.

“Niklas’ contributions to the three Stanley Cup championship teams are well known but his dependability as a teammate, selfless attitude and the way he represented the Chicago Blackhawks on and off the ice are what made him such a beloved member of the organization,” said Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. “He made his debut in Chicago in 2008 and quietly established himself as one of the toughest competitors in franchise history. We wish he and his family continued success.”

The 30-year-old defenseman has two years remaining on his current contract, which carries a $4.1 million cap hit. The 24-year-old Murphy has five years remaining on his current contract ($3.85 million cap hit). Dauphin is in the final year of his current entry-level contract ($745,000). According to CapFriendly, if Dauphin plays for the Rockford IceHogs this season, the Blackhawks can save $250,000 in cap space.

But this isn’t about money as much as the Blackhawks needing to get younger on defense. Murphy has played all four of his NHL seasons with the Coyotes. Last season he had two goals and 15 assists in 77 games.

Still, giving up Hjalmarsson is a tough one. Hjalmarsson has been a strong, steady presence for the Blackhawks. He once again led the team in blocked shots (181). Plenty of bumps, bruises and pain come with that job description but despite that, Hjalmarsson hasn’t missed much time. Since the 2012-13 season Hjalmarsson has missed just 12 games, and just four of those have been due to injury (suspected back injury last season).

The Blackhawks’ defense looked older and slower in their brief postseason run against the Nashville Predators, and they certainly have to start moving toward the future. But with Hjalmarsson playing at the level he has the past few seasons, his absence will hurt.