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.
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.