2008: Ben Smith, 6th round, 169th overall
We’ve just talked about how Toews and Kane hold almost all of the NHL games played in their respective Blackhawks draft classes. How about this: Of the seven Chicago draftees in 2008, Smith has played all but one of the group’s big-league contests. Wow.
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Not all of those games have come with the Blackhawks, as fan-favorite Smith was traded to San Jose for Andrew Desjardins last year. But Smith made his impact on the Blackhawks organization in a short time allowed.
After playing in just six regular-season games and tallying a goal during the 2010-11 regular season, Smith was called on to participate in the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff series against Vancouver. Smith responded to this with three electrifying goals, including the overtime winner in Game 6 over a sprawling Roberto Luongo. Even though the Blackhawks lost that series, Smith’s place in Chicago lore was established in that moment.
Smith went on to win a Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013 and posted 30 goals and 18 assists across 183 games in Chicago. He was a below-the-crease player who certainly wasn’t flashy, but Smith was appreciated by the Blackhawks faithful.
2009: Marcus Kruger, 5th round, 149th overall
Speaking of appreciation, let’s talk about perhaps the most underappreciated forward the Blackhawks have had since the franchise’s turnaround. While Dylan Olsen and Brandon Pirri were expected to be key pieces of the organization upon their drafting, not much thought was given to Kruger. And while Olsen and Pirri struggled to fit in coach Joel Quenneville‘s system, Kruger was quietly meshing and playing a critical role for the Blackhawks.
Kruger’s first full season in the NHL was 2011-12. He was almost immediately trusted on the defensive end by Quenneville, with 55.6 percent of his zone starts coming in the wrong end of the ice. That number has steadily risen ever since, to 61.6 in 2013, 79.1 in 2013-14, 75.9 in 2014-15 and 81.3 this season.
I don’t think it’s unfair to say the Blackhawks would’ve had some struggles winning their second of the three Cups without Kruger. The defensive unit in 2015 would especially urge on the idea Kruger was a critical part of maintaining the championship window for the Blackhawks.
In 411 games played, Kruger has 34 goals and 69 assists, as well as 277 blocked shots. One-third of Kruger’s six career postseason goals are game winners, too. Quite the career thus far for the fifth-round selection.
Next: 2010 And 2011