Marcus Kruger probably had a surprised look on his face when he was first broached about becoming a penalty killer.
Who knew it would turn into his calling card.
“Maybe I didn’t think like that last year, but then I got the role and took pride in doing it,” he said. “And if I get it again, I’ll try to be better.”
That’s Kruger’s mantra for this season, and for every part of his game. Get better. The young Swedish forward was a vital part of the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup last season, mainly for his penalty killing, but also for his overall fourth-line play and fearlessness in driving to the net and going for the puck in tough areas. Now he wants to improve on it all.
“That’s what I shoot for, to contribute more on the offense and just get better,” he said “I have a good chance in training camp to show that, and to be in the best possible shape I can be when the season starts.”
Coach Joel Quenneville has already been impressed with what Kruger’s already done.
“I think he’s one of those guys you have a real appreciation for. He just keeps getting better,” he said. “He’s had a good training camp to date. He wants to show his consistency in every game and wants to be the best he can be offensively. He’s improved every year; he gets stronger rand quicker.”
As far as Kruger’s quick adapting to the penalty kill, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson wasn’t surprised.
“He’s a smart player; that’s something I noticed pretty quick the first time I saw him practice and play,” Hjalmarsson said. “You can see he thinks hockey out there and knows where everyone else is on the ice. He always tries to find smart solutions out there.”
Kruger was already a sound player when Quenneville approached him about becoming a penalty killer Together with Michael Frolik, the two became surprise standouts in that category. They also formed a good chemistry as fourth-line mates. Kruger said he’ll miss Frolik, who was traded to the Winnipeg Jets this summer.
“I hope he’s good, except against us,” Kruger said with a grin. “He’s a great guy and a good player; of course we’re going to miss him. He’ll get a good chance in Winnipeg.”
Kruger’s good opportunities will continue with the Blackhawks. He signed a two-year deal this summer, and it looks like he’ll at least start on the fourth line when the season opens. Considering the Blackhawks’ utilization of all four lines, Kruger will again get his share of playing time. Last season the fourth line had some very noticeable moments. Quenneville hopes that line, with whoever joins Kruger, can do the same.
“He has responsibility on both sides of the puck,” he said. “That’s what gives our team the mentality of being a four-line team, and we’re comfortable being a four-line team with him in that slot. I don’t want to change too much.”
Still, Kruger wants to do more. He filled in at second-line center quite nicely when Dave Bolland missed some regular-season games last year. He can move around the lineup if necessary. Wherever he is, Kruger just wants to be better.
“I hope I can show that and take my game further and get better every year,” Kruger said. “That’s what I want: I want to show more, I want to play more and contribute more.”