The Chicago Blackhawks retained their last key free agent on Friday, and in doing so, probably closed the book on any other significant moves for the remainder of the postseason. That last key free agent was restricted free agent forward Marcus Kruger, who was quietly a key piece of their Stanley Cup run this season.
Kruger teamed up with Michael Frolik to give the Hawks perhaps the best penalty kill duo in the league, and one of the top penalty kill percentages for both the regular season and the playoffs. His new deal is for two years, but the terms were not disclosed, as is common with new Chicago contracts.
The new deal means that the Hawks value Kruger enough to keep him around, rather than try and replace him with someone from Rockford, which will see several youngsters have a chance to make an impact with the big club next year. Will the new deal mean an increased role for Kruger?
Kruger spent pretty much the entire year as a fourth liner, with Frolik and a revolving door on the other wing spot. He spent some time out on the wing himself, but was primarily in the middle. He averaged a touch over 14 minutes a game and posted 13 points on the season, as well as a plus-4 rating.
There’s a definitely a chance that Kruger could get a shot at a larger role with the Hawks next season. With a need for a no. 2 center, Kruger could get a look up there between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. He has the hands and the vision to pull it off, but may not be strong enough, nor is he efficient enough in the faceoff circle.
What is very likely going to happen is that Kruger will return to the exact same role, logging fourth line minutes and killing penalties, while Brandon Pirri gets that look on the second line. Kruger could get a shot, though. All depends on what happens in training camp and in the preseason. He’s certainly worked hard enough to get a look, though it remains to be seen if he could be successful in a role that requires more offensive touch.