When asked who leads the Chicago Blackhawks in faceoff percentage, the natural response is to assume first line center and team captain Jonathan Toews. However, the real answer, at least for permanent Blackhawks centers, is actually Marcus Kruger. His improvement at the faceoff dot is simply the largest gain on an overall transformation that makes the 23-year-old Swede irreplaceable.
As the season continues on, the Blackhawks have made plenty of line changes for various reasons. However, coach Joel Quenneville has been hard-pressed to break up the fourth line unit of Kruger, Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith. The team’s lone true checking line has incredible chemistry, and Kruger has solidified the Blackhawks’ penalty kill recover and improve over the second half of the season.
That defensive consistency and board presence Kruger brings has been on display all season and can be viewed when looking at his +/-, the most basic of all defensive statistics. Kruger, despite being moved to the second line at various points in the season, is a +6, as opposed to Smith and Bollig’s +2 rating.
Scoring was a huge part of Kruger’s game in Sweden, which was surprising considering how quickly he became acclimated to North American ice. Nonetheless, Kruger has become the leader of the fourth line and is likely to surpass the best offensive output of his Blackhawks career which was in 2010-11.
The Blackhawks don’t need to another flashy scorer or player that needs the puck on their stick to find success. On the fourth line, Kruger is the perfect center regardless of situation. His defense is impregnable, and offensively his ability to control a low cycle is irreplaceable. If the Blackhawks wish to make another playoff push, they will need their fourth line to play key minutes in huge situations. There, Kruger will likely get an opportunity to prove just how good he’s become.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486