It happened last season, and it’ll happen again this season: What will happen when Marcus Kruger returns to the Chicago Blackhawks?
Last season, the Chicago Blackhawks missed Marcus Kruger for multiple months due to a wrist injury. When he finally returned toward the back end of the season, there were questions about how he’d slot into the lineup with Phillip Danault more or less taking over his spot, and faring pretty well in doing so.
That was answered quickly when Danault was shipped to Montreal in a trade-deadline deal. Thankfully (he said sarcastically), we get to go through this process again this season. Kruger has been sidelined since the start of the new year with an upper-body injury, and he’s been skating a bit more of late, therefore getting closer to a return.
Now, it’s not as though the Blackhawks are some kind of well-oiled machine right now. They could certainly use not only the defensive prowess of Kruger, but also the ice-flipping abilities he possesses as a means to have the puck more.
It just leads to the questions of what will the Blackhawks do with their roster when Kruger comes back and how does Kruger slot back into the lineup.
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Getting Kruger on the roster
This part shouldn’t be too difficult in theory. The Blackhawks don’t have to make a move to get Kruger back on the active roster. They’re currently carrying 22 players, and Kruger’s cap hit isn’t enough to cause a mandatory subsequent move.
However, the Blackhawks haven’t been carrying 23 players through portions of the season because they’re trying to get younger guys more seasoning and playing time at the AHL level. It’s why guys like Nick Schmaltz, Tyler Motte and Gustav Forsling have been sent down.
Schmaltz is back with the team now, and it wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see him sent back to Rockford when Kruger returns. Coach Joel Quenneville would rather have young guys playing than riding the pine, and I can’t see Schmaltz being in a rotation with anyone other than Andrew Desjardins — and even that would still involve Jordin Tootoo.
Unless the Blackhawks just want to outright cut Tootoo. You won’t hear any complaints from this fan. Or Q might be OK with benching Desjardins and Tootoo for an extended period. This would also be alright.
Slotting Kruger in the lineup
This is a different and slightly more difficult task. While Kruger would be welcomed back quickly on the Blackhawks’ third line, how does the rest of the lineup look after that?
Let’s say Schmaltz does get sent down when Kruger returns, so the Blackhawks are carrying 22 guys — 13 forwards, specifically. I still think this is the most likely scenario, unless Schmaltz finds the net beyond his performance in Colorado.
This would be a good time to change up a few lines, if Q doesn’t do so in advance. I’m not sure the Ryan Hartman–Jonathan Toews–Richard Panik grouping is doing a whole lot for any of those guys, and it’s set to take the ice again tonight against Vancouver.
So let’s reform that line, as well as the third and fourth lines.
Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Vincent Hinostroza-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Desjardins
Plenty of flaws with this lineup, but I think it would work. Hartman is probably the only legitimate answer to the top-line left wing issue right now, unless Panarin starts playing there. And I don’t see any reason to break up the second line at the moment. Hossa should be back with Toews to try and get something offensively out of the captain.
Desjardins has had a really tough season, but he saw past success with Kruger and Andrew Shaw as a relentless checking line. Putting Hinostroza on this line gives it some speed and scoring ability, as he can finish any chances set up for him by Kruger and Desjardins and skate the puck out of danger in spots.
I’d rather have Kero centering a line still the way he’s been going. Panik has been cold offensively of late, but he can definitely crash the crease and accept the passes Kero has been dishing to Hinostroza and Hossa of late. And Rasmussen isn’t a slouch offensively. This line could set him up for some success.
Obviously, having Kruger back in the lineup, whenever he returns, will be beneficial to the Blackhawks. However, it’s clear this lineup is still flawed. Even if Schmaltz sticks around and Desjardins hits the bench, there are still concerns.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks will be chasing some pieces at the trade deadline once again. Top-line left wing is again a concern, as getting Hartman to the bottom six will get things far more balanced.
But the lineup I proposed above keeps things relatively balanced with the guys I assume Chicago will have at its disposal. It should be interesting to see what happens to the roster when Kruger returns.