Over the Olympic break, I’m doing a daily review of one or several Chicago Blackhawks players and giving out grades based on his or their performance during the 2013-14 season. Today, we examine Marcus Kruger and Brandon Saad.
It has been the best season of Kruger’s young career. He anchors one of league’s best fourth lines, is a fixture on the penalty kill and has unexpectedly registered the highest faceoff percentage of any Chicago player.
Kruger’s 24 points are more than is generally expected for a fourth line player in a full season, let alone just 60 games. Joel Quenneville evidently loves his defensive game as he has routinely thrown Kruger’s line into a shutdown role against many of the league’s best forward lines, including Ryan Getzlaf‘s.
Strength on the puck, a past bugaboo of Kruger’s, has been less of an issue in 2013-14. While he will never be considered a physically strong player, he has figured out the intricacies of the NHL game along the boards and consequently become one of the better Blackhawks at cycling the puck in the offensive zone.
Final Verdict: B+. As one of the main cogs on the penalty kill, he doesn’t quite deserve an A until that ship is truly righted.
With 40 points in 60 games, Saad has had a nice sophomore season so far. He has a chance to hit 25 goals, something that only 59 players managed in the last full NHL season. This would be quite impressive in light of the fact that Saad doesn’t receive anywhere close to the ice time or linemate quality that most of those 59 do.
In an effort to spread the offense around, Quenneville has often elected to keep Saad in Chicago’s bottom-six. Of course, he would not feel comfortable doing this if Saad were not also a reputable player in the defensive zone. He trails only Marian Hossa in takeaways per minute and seems to be developing in quite a similar mold to the talented Slovak.
Final Verdict: B. Saad has slightly exceeded expectations but is still prone to extended periods of invisible play.