In a rookie season that has been overshadowed by the emergence of Andrew Shaw and the dominance of veterans, center Marcus Krüger has quietly grown into a quality contributor for the Chicago Blackhawks.
He won’t turn 22 until the end of May, but Krüger has seen his role on the Hawks evolve throughout his first season in the NHL. The organization has been high on him since selecting him in the fifth round of the 2009 Draft, but many continue to question if Krüger has the size to be a top-six forward; after all, his listed frame of 5’11″ and 170 pounds certainly isn’t the prototypical “grinder” at the NHL level.
But Krüger has continued to work hard all season, and while he rewards the front office’s belief in his abilities, the coaches have started to reward him on the ice with a bigger role.
Certainly the absence of Jonathan Toews has played a big part in Krüger’s use by the team, but he has taken advantage of the opportunities he’s been given.
Krüger worked to get used to the NHL game in the first half of the season and was slowed by a concussion, and it showed in his numbers. In 40 games before the All-Star Game, Krüger had just three goals and eight assists and was minus-two while averaging 14:09 per game on the ice.
But since the break, his game has grown by leaps and bounds.
In 24 games since the break, Krüger has six goals and six assists and is plus-10 while averaging 16:51 per game. His game has stepped up each month this season, and after scoring five goals in February he’s having a very effective March, posting one goal and four assists while averaging a career-high 18:11 on the ice per night.
His 12 points his the All-Star break are tied for third among all NHL rookies with Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils; Gabriel Landeskog of the Avs and Carl Hagelin of the Rangers are tied with 21 points each. Krüger’s six goals since the break are tied for second among rookies with Hagelin and Brayden Schenn of the Flyers.
Krüger has the best plus-minus among all NHL rookies since the break.
He has emerged as one of the Hawks’ better defensive forwards as well. He ranks fourth among Chicago forwards this year with 28 blocked shots, behind Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik.
Also, Krüger is now averaging 1:16 per night on penalty killing duty, which is the fifth-highest average among Hawks forwards behind Toews, Hossa, Bolland and Jamal Mayers. Krüger is also averaging 1:19 per game on the powerplay.
His vision on the ice has been very good this year, and he has been able to seamlessly skate on all four lines at either center or a wing. There are rookie mistakes, which should be expected, but he has done as well as anyone on the roster at playing consistently no matter who he’s skating with this season.
Certainly fans would like to see his faceoff percentage be higher than 46.2 this year, but only two rookies – Henrique and Sean Couturier of the Flyers – have taken more faceoffs than Krüger’s 550 this year. And neither Henrique (48.4) or Couturier (47.1) are winning a significantly higher percentage of their faceoffs than Krüger.
More impressive, Krüger is one of only four rookies in the NHL that are averaging more than one minute on both penalty kill and powerplay duty per game (Henrique, Landeskog and Matt Read of the Flyers).
Other rookies, both around the league and in Chicago, might get more headlines and highlights, but Krüger is having one of the better all-around seasons among all NHL rookies, and his improvement has been key to the Hawks’ playoff run.