Chicago Blackhawks

Kruger finding his groove for Hawks

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Kruger finding his groove for Hawks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia Marcus Kruger had his motivation.

The Blackhawks center had a slow start to training camp before improving toward the end, and he was briefly sent to Rockford early in the regular season. His assignment was based on roster numbers and not his performance. But when he was recalled, Kruger nevertheless used it to fuel his game.

I wanted to show that I can be an NHL player, he said recently.

And he is.

Kruger has been a solid checking-line center in Dave Bollands absence, as the young forward continues to hone his North American game with the Blackhawks. Kruger came to Chicago late last season and adjusted quickly to the different ice surface and Blackhawks system.

The fourth-line center moved up a line when Bolland suffered a right-foot injury last week and coach Joel Quenneville said you have to commend Kruger for doing a nice job there.

And if that quick trip to Rockford was a boost, so be it.

It wasnt our intention to get his attention (with that), but you certainly like his response to the immediate call back up and how hes played since that day, Quenneville said. In Game 7 (against Vancouver), he was arguably one of our top players that night here. We had him being a big part of our team coming in, had a slow camp, but at the end of the day hes where he belongs and hes useful in a lot of ways.

His ability to adapt did help make him an easy fit on that checking line with Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik. The three have done just fine together in these last three games, and Kruger said he sticks to the same mindset no matter his partners.

Its pretty much the same, just try to give them the puck on the tape all the time and go from there, and of course be aware of whos on the other team, he said. But you cant worry about the other team too much. You just go out there and play your game.

And Kruger doesnt mind the added defensive responsibility out there. Its something hell especially have to be mindful against Vancouver on Wednesday if Bolland cant go.

Its more, of course, but you cant think too much when youre out there. You have to go with your instincts, he said. Thats what were trying to do.

Kruger has given the Blackhawks a viable center option among their lines. Oh, and he can go on the power play, too. The Blackhawks saw the potential in Kruger when they selected him in 2009. Hes tapping into it now.

We saw him early in camp there and thought it was a matter of time, Quenneville said. Theres more to his game than how he plays defensively. His anticipation offensively is in the right spots, and he should keep improving his game.

Where does Patrick Kane rank among Hart Trophy candidates for 2017-18 season?

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USA TODAY

Where does Patrick Kane rank among Hart Trophy candidates for 2017-18 season?

Patrick Kane is among the Hart Trophy candidates for the 2017-18 season, but what are his early odds to reclaim the title?

The 28-year-old Blackhawks star followed up an 106-point campaign in which he became the first American-born player to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophy by finishing tied for second in the NHL with 89 points last season.

But he's facing some tougher odds going into this year.

Bovada revelead Wednesday that Connor McDavid is the front-runner to repeat at 3/2 odds, followed by Sidney Crosby (5/2), Auston Matthews (17/2) and Alex Ovechkin (9/1). Kane ranks fifth at 14/1.

Here's the rest of the list:

  • Vladimir Tarasenko: 15/1
     
  • Evgeni Malkin: 16/1
     
  • Carey Price, John Tavares: 20/1
     
  • Jamie Benn, Steven Stamkos: 25/1
     
  • Erik Karlsson, Nikita Kucherov: 33/1
     
  • Jack Eichel, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrik Laine, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin: 50/1
     
  • Nicklas Backstrom, Brent Burns, Braden Holtby, Phil Kessel, Artemi Panarin, Joe Pavelski: 60/1


A couple solid value picks would be Karlsson at 33/1 and Burns at 60/1, both of whom made strong cases to be in that conversation last year as defensemen.

You'll also notice Panarin as a darkhorse candidate. It will be interesting to see how Kane and Panarin fare without each other in the prime of their careers. Who knows, maybe they'll be sharing the stage together as finalists in Las Vegas next June.

Hawks Talk Podcast: Bryan Bickell on journey with Blackhawks, battling MS

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Bryan Bickell on journey with Blackhawks, battling MS

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Bryan Bickell sits down with Pat Boyle and they discuss the retired player's journey to the NHL, which included being an Ottawa clubhouse assistant where he met future teammate, Marian Hossa.

Bickell admits when he finally knew he was a regular in the NHL, his incredible 2013 postseason performance and the historic 17 seconds in Boston.

Finally, Bryan gets emotional when discussing his MS diagnosis, his shootout goal in his final NHL game, and how his wife Amanda has been at his side throughout his entire hockey career.

Listen to the Hawks Talk Podcast below: