Thanks primarily to his work as a penalty killer, Marcus Kruger has become one of the most important members of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
On Friday, the Hawks rewarded Kruger by signing the restricted free-agent center to a new two-year contract.
The 23-year-old Kruger had 4 goals and 9 assists in 47 games last season and was even better in the playoffs with 3 goals and 2 assists in 23 games.
A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Kruger was drafted in the fifth round (149th overall) in 2009.
“Marcus had a great season,” Bowman said. “When we brought him over we expected this role from him. Looking at his progression the last two seasons, I’m not surprised he’s done that.
“This is what we liked when we drafted him. He’s a tenacious player, very smart. He’s gained some strength over the last few years, which has allowed him to play against better and stronger players. He has the ability to help us in a lot of ways.”
Bowman thinks Kruger will only continue to get better.
“He played some wing in the playoffs, a lot of center during the regular season, and he was a big part of the penalty killing,” Bowman said. “That’s sort of his profile moving forward: versatile defender who’s worked on his offensive game a little bit. Looking to next season, his role is only going to get bigger.”
Bowman considers Kruger in the mix to win the job as second-line center.
“He played some there in the past,” Bowman said. “That’s really for Joel (Quenneville) to decide where to use him. The good thing with Marcus is he can play left wing, center on the second line, third line, fourth line. It’s nice to have guys who can bounce around the lineup. You’re going to have injuries or you want to have a different look sometimes. He gives you the flexibility to do that.”
Quenneville is certainly glad to have Kruger back in the fold.
“We’ve always liked Krugs,” said Quenneville. “He compliments how you want your group to play. He enhanced the penalty killing to a different level. He was instrumental to taking leadership to that group. Zero maintenance. He flies under the radar. That’s exactly how you want a guy to play.”
While Bowman still must tidy up some loose ends pertaining to Rockford, such as signing restricted free-agent center Drew LeBlanc, the Hawks’ roster is set for going forward to next season.
“Maybe add some depth in Rockford,” Bowman said. “But for the Blackhawks, we need opportunities for our younger players. The guys we see here (at prospects camp), some are on the cusp for pushing for jobs in the NHL. We don’t have players earmarked for certain spots. We don’t hand out jobs. We want them to have a good camp; even some of the players here today will be in Rockford next year and pushing to be in Chicago.”
Bowman again mentioned centers Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill as two players out of prospects camp who have a chance to make the jump to the NHL. There’s also center Brandon Pirri, the American Hockey League scoring champ, and defenseman Adam Clendening from Rockford, but if they’re not ready, they’re not ready.
“The most important thing is getting better,” Bowman said. “When they’re ready, they’re ready. It’s hard to force that ahead of time.
“It’s not a bad situation at all to have these guys spend a few years in the minors. They all want to be here, but we’re excited for guys who take their time. We’ve seen it pay off. We have a countless number of players who spent years in the minors, and you forget that. (Duncan) Keith, (Niklas) Hjalmarsson, all these guys spent over a year in the minors. That’s important for us.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.