Marcus Kruger has been there before, albeit briefly.
The Chicago Blackhawks center got his second-line opportunity a few months back, although it may have lasted all of 10 minutes in one game. Still, the Blackhawks know Kruger is versatile enough to play there again. On Friday, he just may.
Kruger was centering Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane at Thursday’s practice, as the Blackhawks prepared for Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild on Friday night. Kruger’s move was part of wholesale line changes on Thursday, as the Blackhawks look to find offense and an overall game that was absent on Tuesday.
Much like the rest of the Blackhawks, Kruger’s never surprised when changes come.
“We haven’t been playing as good as we know we can and sometimes to mix it up gets a spark, so maybe that’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “But just with the lines, that’s going to change… so that’s something we’re used to.”
As far as the opportunity he may be getting, Kruger said he won’t alter much.
“I’ve played there before, I’ve played with Saader a few games back, so I think that doesn’t change too much with my game,” Kruger said. “I just try to play the same way, but of course we're not happy with how we play here the last few games. So, we need to come out strong here in Minnesota. We know they're going to battle hard and we need to match that."
Kruger’s all-around game has always been a boon. He’s also taken great strides in the face-off circle, where he’s gone from so-so to a top-10 winner in the regular season (56.7 percent). His face-off work wasn’t a big reason why he was moved to second-line center; for coach Joel Quenneville, Kruger’s versatility and defense were.
“I don’t think we give him much of an opportunity in that situation, that role or that realm, that all of a sudden he sees plays, he makes plays,” Quenneville said. “We had him on the power play a few years back; he’s one of those guys who is capable of doing that. He has that ability of recognizing people around him offensively and has play selection. So, he’s playing with a couple really skilled guys. I think at the same time there are reasons why he’s on that line that gives that dependability defensively as well. But he is one of those guys, in tight, he sees and makes plays that he doesn’t get credit for.”
Kruger’s one of several guys who were moved around in Thursday’s practice. On his last “audition” at second-line center, he was barely there long enough to notice. Perhaps on Friday, he gets more of a chance.
“Winning and scoring goals is fun, but at the same time I'm not going to change my game too much,” Kruger said. “I don't know how we're going to play tomorrow. Even if I play with those guys, it's still the same game to play both ways and keep it the same."