Hawk Thought: Can Kruger Handle the Second Line?


As I’m sure most of you have heard by now, “the Experiment” (Kane at center) has ended, at least for the time being. Quenneville, in his infinite wisdom, has decided to reunite #88 with his old buddy #19 on the top line and promote young Marcus Kruger to the second line.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. Kane at center was becoming stagnant offensively and he was getting beat pretty bad on defense the last few games. On the flip side, Kruger has arguably been the Hawks’ best bottom six player over the last few weeks and really deserves an opportunity to log some top six minutes.

But can he handle it?

Here are Kruger’s stats for the season:

Nothing really mind-boggling. Both Kruger’s goals came from going hard to the net and the majority his assists have come on the powerplay. Still Kruger is tied with Michael Frolik in points and has been one of the most consistent players on the lower lines. Don’t let his minus-4 rating deceive you, Kruger has been very reliable defensively.

Kruger’s game has really evolved since he came over from Sweden last spring. He’s definitely more confident and comfortable.  His skill with and without the puck and his high hockey IQ have been very evident. Quennville has been trusting Kruger with more ice-time and responsibilities as the season has progressed. He logs minutes on both special teams units and has worked his way up from the fourth line.

As you can see from his game log, Kruger’s minutes have really jumped lately. At the start of the season he was averaging between 10-11 minutes a game. However, since November 10th (with the exception of the games in San Jose and Calgary) Kruger has averaged between 16-17 minutes a game.

Similarly Kruger’s faceoff percentage has been on a steady climb. Although his percentage only sits at 46.7%, over the last 6 games he’s won 65% of his draws.

While he hasn’t been producing points, Kruger’s play of late has been exemplary. He’s definitely earned himself an opportunity to prove whether or not he can handle life in the top six. And while there’s probably no doubt that Kruger can handle the competition and defensive responsibilties, there has to be at least some questions asked about whether or not he can produce enough offensively.

So far this season, Kruger has played in the bottom six and hasn’t been heavily relied on offensively. However, playing on the second line he will be expected to start chipping in and generating high quality chances for two of the best snipers in the game, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.

Kruger has displayed his skill and craftiness with the puck, especially on the second powerplay unit, the success of which Kruger has played a large part in. But the powerplay is one thing, producing five-on-five is another creature.

For a team that’s been struggling with scoring depth all season, moving Kruger into a role that has tremendous offensive expectations is risky. If Kruger is unable to produce or generate chances for Sharp and Hossa, than the Blackhawks could find themselves struggling for goals.

Quenneville is certainly rolling the dice on this one. And considering the slump the Hawks are in, they can’t afford to stick with failed experiments for too long. If Kruger can’t handle the job, then we may see Kane back there sooner rather than later, or perhaps we might see Bowman make a move and bring in another natural center.

But if Kruger does succeed, the Hawks will finally have an answer for the second line center position, which has been a hole in the organization for years now. Let’s hope young Kruger is up to the task.

The Hawks take on the Islanders at 7:30 CT tonight. All eyes will be on #16. I’ll be back tomorrow with some thoughts and comments. Go Hawks!

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