With so few moves for the Chicago Blackhawks this summer, the second line center debate is likely something that will continue to pour on over into training camp and into the regular season, just as it did last season. And the season before that.
Unless someone like Brandon Pirri comes in and stars in training camp and shocks the heck out of everyone, it’s a competition that is likely going to come down to one of two options, both of which saw time in the middle of that second unit last season: Patrick Kane and Marcus Kruger.
Kane’s move to the middle was highly publicized and brought about mixed results. Many thought that Kane’s playmaking ability would translate well to center, which he had never played at the NHL level. Others raised the concerns over his defense as a reason to keep him out on the wing, rather than move him to the middle.
With Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks got some of both. He looked very good in the middle, handling the puck and working with more open ice than he typically does when he’s on the right wing. But those defensive and size concerns turned out to be valid, leading to a move back to the wing, until the emergency situation that rose when Jonathan Toews went down with a concussion.
That’s what makes Marcus Kruger the more likely candidate. His game has been compared to Dave Bolland because of how strong he is defensively, but there is still plenty of potential to be realized from Kruger.
In his first full season with the Hawks, Kruger was a pleasant surprise. He didn’t put up big points, but he showed how smart he is out on the ice and displayed a fearlessness by willing to get into the corners and in front of the net, even if he did get thrown around a bit.
There are two big questions with Kruger. The first is his size. He’s going to have to get bigger and stronger if he’s going to stick as a top six guy. The other is whether or not his offensive game will come far enough along that he could be a mainstay on an offensive line for the Blackhawks for the future.
We should have an answer to that question, and should know whether that’s the case, or if Kruger is a Bolland-lite. Either way, he looks like the much better option of the two, at least to start the year, and I’d be surprised to see anyone else than no. 16 holding down the second unit when the season begins.