On paper, there aren’t too many flaws with this Chicago Blackhawks team, but there is one glaring weakness that has been noticeable for quite a few years.
Of any position, the Hawks lack at center more than anything. That lack of depth in the middle has reared its ugly head with the injury to Jonathan Toews, leaving the Blackhawks with only two real centers on the roster, in Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland.
Luckily for the Hawks, though, one of those guys has improved by leaps and bounds this season, and has proven that he really is an essential component of this team, and that guy is Marcus Kruger.
The 21-year-old Kruger is in his first full season with the Hawks, after joining the team towards the end of last season, prior to the playoffs. He showed potential and great hockey sense, but was sent down after a lackluster preseason. That trip to Rockford didn’t last long, and Kruger hasn’t returned since.
Though he’s been steady all season, Kruger has really shown his value to the Blackhawks with the injury to Jonathan Toews, who leaves the Hawks without a top line center. While Patrick Kane fills in on the first line, Kruger has been bouncing all over, often doing his work on the second unit.
On the season, Kruger has just 23 points and is a plus-8, but it’s what he does off of the stat sheet that has many excited about him. His hockey sense is well known and he makes smart decisions with the puck. Even with the injuries he’s dealt with this season, there’s almost a fearlessness to his game, and a willingness to get to the dirty areas on the ice.
Kruger has also been a contributor on both special teams, more specifically on the penalty kill. The fact that he played almost 20 minutes against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night says a lot about the different ways in which the Hawks are able to utilize Kruger.
When Toews does return, Kruger’s role up on the second line could be reduce to something in the bottom six, if the Hawks choose to keep Kane in the middle. But he has proven his worth as a key role player this season, and could take his game to another level once he grows both physically and as a player.