There are a few players on this Chicago Blackhawks team running around as unsung hero types. The big names have come through for them, which has left less attention for the other guys. But there are some deserving of praise, regardless of what the stat sheet says.
One of those players that has come through, somewhat quietly, for the Hawks is that of Marcus Kruger. He has firmly established himself as a key piece of this club, even if it’s not in the role that many would have hoped for when he first arrived, which was likely on the second line.
Nonetheless, Kruger has found a spot for himself on the fourth line and as a penalty killer for this team. By all accounts, he’s been elite in his role and it has been a key element in the success of the Blackhawks in the early part of the season.
On a unit with Michael Frolik, both at full strength and on the penalty kill, Kruger has excelled. There is not a harder working combination in the entire league than these two. As impressive as they are working along the boards and up on the forecheck, it’s on the penalty kill where we see them, Kruger in particular, truly stand out.
Stuck on multiple 5-on-3’s in the past couple of weeks, Joel Quenneville has had no reservations about throwing Kruger out on the kill as the only forward out there. His intelligence has been an asset, as he almost always makes the smart play when defending against the man advantage. His faceoff percentage isn’t pretty, but he almost always makes up for it with his play later.
The Hawks left their tilt on Tuesday with the second best penalty kill unit in the league. For a group that ranked near the bottom of the league last year, it’s one that has improved by miles. It’s been partially due to a change from behind the bench, but inserting Kruger into that role has paid dividends for the Hawks.
Kruger may never be the offensive player some had hoped, but he’s an asset as a defensive player. His play could very well end up throwing the future of Dave Bolland into limbo with the Blackhawks.