It is rare to see young players take on such an important role game in and game out, unless you’re on the Chicago Blackhawks. Then it’s no big deal at all.
The Blackhawks’ penalty kill was one of the brightest spots of their winning formula, killing off 87% of their penalties in the regular season, and over 90% in the playoffs. Two players that stole the show defensively during these two (or sometimes longer) minutes were Marcus Kruger, and Michael Frolik. The two Hawks youngsters showed immediate chemistry handling the load, and they carried Chicago to a 3rd-place finish in the PK department.
Time wore on, and the Blackhawks won their fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history, and the first for both players. With a Stanley Cup however, comes changes. Michael Frolik was one of those said changes for Stan Bowman, GM of the Blackhawks, and he was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets on June 30, the day of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The Blackhawks received two draft picks in return.
The departure of Frolik also leaves a hole in the Blackhawks’ PK for the upcoming 2013-14 season. One half of the dynamic defensive duo will be playing north of the border come next October, and that leaves Blackhawks’ head coach Joel Quenneville and his staff with a mighty task: reassemble one of the NHL’s best Penalty Kills next season.
Coach Q has two options: Keep Kruger, and replace Frolik with another ‘Hawks youngster, such as Jimmy Hayes or Jeremy Morin, who will both likely make the jump next season, or attempt to find chemistry in an all-new PK unit. An example of a replacement for Kruger would be Calder Trophy finalist Brandon Saad, paired with some of the aforementioned youngsters, leaving the veterans and core players to spend time on the second unit.
It may be a small detail right now, but it will matter as soon as the first Blackhawk steps in the penalty kill next season. Until then, in Bowman we trust.
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