When Marcus Kruger goes to the faceoff circle these days, he goes with confidence.
It’s easy to see why. Entering this season, the Chicago Blackhawks center made a concerted effort to get better at faceoffs. The Blackhawks wanted all their centers to do so. Kruger, perhaps more than anyone else, has shown the most improvement there.
Last season, Kruger was ranked 71st in the league in faceoffs, winning 46.2 percent of his draws. This season, he’s 12th, winning 56.1 percent. Part of it may just be Kruger’s maturation in the game. But the other part is working with Yanic Perreault, who the Blackhawks hired to help their centers improve faceoff percentages.
Kruger’s soaked in everything Perreault has taught.
“Coming into this year I wanted to work on that, and he’s been great for us. He used to be one of the best and he knows a lot about it,” Kruger said. “I just try to listen and learn from him.”
Apparently, he has. Kruger has won at least 50 percent of his faceoffs in each of his last 11 games. The last time he was under 50 percent was Nov. 25 against the Edmonton Oilers (he won 5 of 11).
So what’s improved?
“The overall position and also the mindset going into the faceoff. Of course, when it works for you, you get some confidence and you’re feeling good about taking draws,” said Kruger. “You really want to be on your toes. It’s important if you’re playing in your own end and maybe their top line; you don’t want them to get puck possession right away in your own zone. I try to take pride in that job.”
Coach Joel Quenneville has noticed the difference, saying several factors play into Kruger’s improvement.
“Working with Yan, he has more of a science to it in the approach. Whether it’s tendencies of the opponent, officials, they all add up to trying to get more of an edge,” Quenneville said. “All of these young guys, they get stronger and more educated and we expect them to get better in time.
(Kruger) is one of those guys who takes pride in that (in) all zones. Particularly in the penalty-killing situation, that first draw is important as well.”
Kruger’s shown great improvement in the faceoff circle. It’s given him confidence when he gets in there, and he’s been doing the most with it.
“It’s always up and down with faceoffs. You need to work on it, do your homework, look at their guys and what they’re going to do,” Kruger said. (Perreault) has been good about the preparation thing, too. It’s not just going in there and see how it’s going to be. It’s been good, but like I said, it’s always up and down. Some games you struggle, but you can still be better.”