As Marcus Kruger moves to the second line for the Chicago Blackhawks, fears about his production may be deceiving.
Through the season’s first 46 games, Kruger is tied with Niklas Hjalmarsson for 10th on the Blackhawks with 18 points. One of his four goals was a game-winner, and 12 of his 14 assists have come during 5-on-5 skating (nine primary).
But digging deeper shows there is potential for Kruger’s offensive game to grow quickly.
Kruger, as a fourth line center, plays against some of the Hawks’ strongest opponents; his Quality of Competition (-0.004) ranks fourth among regular Blackhawks forwards behind only Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
Which speaks to how well Kruger has played this season. He has been used almost exclusively as a defensive specialist, and has improved in a number of key areas. Perhaps the most significant improvement from Kruger this year has come at the dot, where he’s winning 56.8 percent of his faceoffs this year. That’s a major improvement – over 10 percent – from last year, when he won only 46.2 percent of his draws.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Kruger’s use has been where his shifts begin. Kruger only begins 21.7 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, compared to 68 percent for one of his new linemates, Patrick Kane.
Kruger spends 2:26 of his 13:44 on the ice each night short-handed, and has been one of coach Joel Quenneville’s primary penalty killers since the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
What will be interesting is to see how Kruger responds to playing with good teammates. His Quality of Teammates rating (a statistic that rates the average relative plus-minus of teammates, weighted by ice time together) of -0.226 ranks 20th on the Hawks this year.
We do know that Kruger’s 1.80 points per 60 minutes ranks sixth among players currently on the Hawks’ roster (Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin are also higher). We also know that Kruger has only spent 43:20 on the ice with Kane during 5-on-5 play this year, and that their CORSI together is 9 while the goals for/against ratio is split 50/50. Kruger is also winning 55.6 percent of his faceoffs when both teams are at full strength.
In practice on Friday morning, Kruger was between Kane and slumping forward Bryan Bickell. Michal Handzus was on the third line, between Brandon Saad and Kris Versteeg. Andrew Shaw was bumped to the fourth line, between Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig.