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.

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

Blackhawks agree to terms with Nathan Noel on entry-level contract

The Blackhawks strengthened their organizational depth Thursday, announcing the signing of forward Nathan Noel to a three-year entry-level contract that kicks in next season and runs through the 2019-20 campaign. 

Noel, a fourth-round draft pick (No. 113 overall) in 2016, tied a career high with 24 goals — including six game winners — and added 26 assists for 50 points in 52 games during his fourth regular season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was sidelined for a little more than a month in December and January due to an upper-body injury.

The 19-year-old center has raised his game in the postseason, racking up eight goals and 18 assists in 33 games from 2015-17, including six assists in 12 contests so far during the 2017 QMJHL playoffs. Across four years at Saint John, he amassed 208 points (85 goals, 123 assists) in 242 career regular-season games.

Noel is teammates with forward Matthew Highmore, who leads the Sea Dogs in scoring and was signed by the Blackhawks in March to a three-year deal as an undrafted free agent.

Noel is an undersized forward at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but he's a fast skater with offensive upside. He'll likely start the 2017-18 season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, who desperately needed scoring last year. 

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Blackhawks' Nick Schmaltz added to USA's roster for 2017 IIHF World Championship

Nick Schmaltz will be joining Blackhawks teammate Trevor van Riemsdyk on Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship, the club announced Thursday.

It will be his first career appearance on the U.S. men's national team and third time representing his country in world-championship play, most recently winning a bronze medal at the 2016 World Juniors. He scored two goals and added six assists in seven games during that tournament.

Schmaltz just completed his first professional season with the Blackhawks, where he tallied six goals and 22 assists in 61 games. 

After the year ended, he spoke about the possibility of playing for USA in this tournament and what it would mean to him.

"I think it's a great tournament," Schmaltz said. "You get to play with a lot of great players. Look like a lot of great players are going to the tournament, so it's definitely a big stage. It would be a fun tournament."

The roster now includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Among the other NHLers going for the Americans: Danny DeKeyser, Noah Hanifin, Jimmy Howard, Dylan Larkin, Anders Lee, Charlie McAvoy, Connor Murphy, Brock Nelson and Jacob Trouba.

Blackhawks forwards Marcus Kruger (Sweden) and Artemi Panarin (Russia) will also compete in the tournament, which begins May 5 and runs until May 21 in Cologne, Germany and Paris, France.