Marcus Kruger Had A Tough Season With Chicago Blackhawks
(Writer’s note: Tanner Kero will be part of a larger post containing individuals who weren’t with the Chicago Blackhawks for a long period of time this season.)
Marcus Kruger was perhaps one of the most underappreciated members of the Chicago Blackhawks roster heading into the 2015-16 season. The guy who takes all the defensive-zone assignments, all the faceoffs in front of Corey Crawford or Scott Darling, and manages to turn things in the other direction time and again couldn’t manage to secure a long-term commitment from the only NHL team he’s ever known.
And thus began a really strange season of hockey for Kruger, who wound up with a one-year deal right before the season started, broke his wrist before the calendar turned to 2016, got a three-year contract while he was on the shelf in addition to a vote of confidence with the trade of Phillip Danault, and was sort of forgotten about when it came to on-ice action. Kruger was eventually being used as an offensive-line center in the postseason and even lost/gave his No. 16 to Andrew Ladd.
There’s no doubt Kruger is an important piece for the Blackhawks from defensive and penalty-kill perspectives, but there was just little chance to get him going this season in the ways that make him so valuable. So grading Kruger is going to be a bit of a task.
2015-16 regular-season stats: 41 games, 0 goals, 4 assists, minus-5 rating, 24 penalty minutes, 50 shots on goal
2016 postseason stats: 7 games, 0 goals, 1 assist, minus-2 rating, 0 penalty minutes, 8 shots on goal
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For a team that couldn’t do a whole lot in the faceoff circles when Jonathan Toews wasn’t on the ice, Kruger had a nice impact in his limited action. He took 49.2 percent of his faceoffs in the regular season and 49 percent in the playoffs. I expect those numbers to improve next season as he has more time on the ice and, hopefully, more consistent linemates.
Kruger managed to jump in front of 31 shots during his 41 regular-season games. That may seem totally average for a defensive-minded forward like Kruger, but he finished with 50 blocks in 81 regular-season games last year. His career-high of 70 blocks in 81 games during the 2013-14 season was certainly at risk of falling had Kruger been able to stay healthy. I’m sure Crow and Darling would’ve appreciated that, considering how often pucks got to them this season.
We consistently discuss how Kruger takes the shifts very few others could successfully take and turns them into something positive for the Blackhawks.
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While the positives outcomes weren’t nearly as frequent this season, it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. Kruger started a ridiculous 81.3 percent of his starts in the defensive zone, the highest mark in his career (surpassing 79.1 percent in 2013-14). When you’re starting 18.7 percent of your shifts in the offensive zone, you can’t expect a ton of offensive production. That being said …
In a season during which the Blackhawks really, really needed secondary scoring, Kruger couldn’t provide any. Now, the blame for this is not solely on him. As I mentioned, inconsistent linemates, starting a ton of your shifts in the defensive zone and being injured for more than half the regular season aren’t going to rake in goals. But the Blackhawks usually get a little something out of Kruger every now and again, regardless of the situation. It just wasn’t there this time.
Kruger also struggled to actually turn play the other way, a calling card of his playing style. His Corsi-for of 48.4 in the regular season is well below his career average of 52.3 percent. Does it have something to do with inconsistent linemates and poor blueline work behind him? Almost definitely. But it’s hard to absolve Kruger entirely of blame when he’s posted much better numbers in equally difficult situations in the past.
Ultimately, I think Kruger can turn around next season and produce at the rate we’re used to seeing — offensively and defensively — assuming he gets consistent linemates. Andrew Desjardins will almost definitely be one, while the other is entirely up in the air at this point. Having a longer-term contract would probably ease Kruger’s mind on the ice, too, allowing him to just focus on hockey.
I can’t grade Kruger much more harshly, as he just had so many things working against him this season. While he’s usually be able to make lemonade out of the lemons given to him, it just wasn’t in the cards this season. Kruger certainly isn’t the reason the Blackhawks aren’t still playing hockey, so he gets a semi-pass in grading.