This year, the Blackhawks have enjoyed a strong start to their Stanley Cup defense. One of the keys to their strong start has been Marcus Kruger, who has continued to improve in every part of his game.
In 29 games, Kruger has matched his offensive production – four goals, nine assists – from 47 games during the abbreviated 2012-13 regular season.
On the rare occasion that he’s looked for his shot, Kruger has been much more effective this year as well. His shot percentage of 12.5 is more than double his total from last season (6.67). Only Brandon Pirri and Patrick Kane have a better shooting percentage than Kruger for the Hawks this year.
Indeed, if Kruger looked for his offense more frequently he might be an even bigger part of the Blackhawks’ scoring. Kruger’s individual points percentage (percentage of goals scored by the Hawks while Kruger is on the ice that he had a point on) is 78.6, which trails only Michal Handzus and Kane to date.
However, Kruger’s individual Fenwick (the total number of shots and missed shots from Kruger) of 29 is better than only Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Rozsival and Handzus so far this year.
Perhaps more important, he continues to be committed to the defensive end of the ice; entering Thursday, he ranks third among all NHL forwards with 29 blocked shots.
His biggest improvement has come at the dot, where he is winning 54.6 percent of his faceoffs this year. That’s an improvement of eight percent from last year; he’s even winning more than 40 percent of his short-handed faceoffs this year, another significant improvement.
Digging deeper into the numbers, it shows that coach Joel Quenneville’s confidence in the 23-year-old center has continued to grow as well.
Kruger is facing some of the toughest competition every night. His average relative Corsi of opposing players, weighted by head-to-head ice time – 0.799 – ranks fourth among Blackhawks forward behind only Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews.
And Kruger has earned that confidence. Kruger begins only 23 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, the third-lowest percentage on the Hawks. However, 42.2 percent of his shifts end with the puck in the offensive zone, a jump of nearly 20 percent.
His continued improvement could put him in the mix for a spot on Sweden’s roster in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where he could join Chicago teammates Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. Oduya represented Sweden in 2010.
The advanced stats cited in this story are from BehindTheNet.ca and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.