Potential for big news coming out of Sweden this morning as SPORT-Expressen is reporting that Marcus Kruger will be leaving Sweden and making his Blackhawks’ debut as soon as this week, according to the report.
[UPDATE: 7:15 am] The Djurgarden Hockey web site is now reporting that Kruger is, in fact, on his way to Chicago to join the Blackhawks.
Marcus Kruger was the Blackhawks 5th round pick (149th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, playing for the Djurgarden Jr. team at that time. If the report is accurate, he would join Viktor Stalberg and Niklas Hjalmarsson in the Swedish-born Blackhawks contingent this week, about six month’s earlier than previously planned.
Kruger, who will turn 21 in May, signed his 3-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks on June 18, 2010. His cap hit, per listing at CapGeek.com is $900,000 and his deal is heavy on performance bonuses (possible $310k) this year. Kruger’s base salary this season is $590,000 plus a $90,000 signing bonus.
This season Kruger led the Djurgarden Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) squad in scoring compiling 6 goals and 29 assists for 35 points.
Kruger’s plus/minus rating of +12 tied him with defenseman Staffan Kronwall for the Djurgarden team lead. His ice time average, 17:49, was third-highest among forwards on Djurgarden. Known to be a gritty two-way forward, Kruger’s 52 penalty minutes, in 52 games, was fifth-highest on this year’s Djurgardens’ roster.
The SPORT-Expressen report lists Wednesday night’s game with the visiting Florida Panthers as Kruger’s potential debut.
This would be a quick turnaround for Kruger, whose SEL team was eliminated from postseason this past Sunday, March 20th in a 4-3 overtime loss to Lulea HF.
Kruger missed games 3 through 6 of that series with an injury/illness. Djurgardens came back from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 7 without him. Kruger’s lone point of the series came in that game; an assist on what was the go-ahead 3-2 goal at the time, with 5:49 remaining in regulation.
He is listed on the Elitserien web site as a Left Wing though he is regarded within the organization as a top prospect at the center position. This month’s special edition of The Hockey News, 2011 NHL Future Watch lists the 5-11, 172 pound Kruger as the 5th-best prospect currently in the Blackhawks’ organization.
The story quoted Stan Bowman regarding Kruger’s decision to return the Sweden after signing his first NHL contract.
“He didn’t think he was ready for the NHL,” Bowman as quoted in The Hockey News. “We expect him to come over next year and be on our team.”
That was Bowman speaking to the Daily Herald’s Tim Sassone (also the author of the THN Future Watch piece) last month. Bowman was further quoted in a Daily Herald article on February 14th.
“(Kruger)’s a guy we signed last summer and we actually tried to convince him to stay because I think he would have made our team. He’s a bit of a late bloomer.”
Bowman continued to Sassone: “He’s a very smart player, in the Dave Bolland mold, if you were going to compare him. He does all the little things.” Bowman goes on in the linked Herald article to compliment Kruger’s hockey IQ and coachability.
In the recent playoff series against Lulea HF, Kruger posted 1 assist, 5 shots on goal and was a plus-2 while averaging 16:28 of ice time per game. In the face off circle, Kruger went 10-12 (45.5%).
It should also be noted, Kruger wasn’t the primary draw-taker on his line. Mika Zibanejad took more of the face offs and all but four draws in the defensive zone, which Kruger went 1 for 4 in.
During the 2010-11 regular season, Kruger took 740 face off draws and his percentage was 45.7%.
Kruger’s skill and two-way dependability at the center position specifically is what makes Kruger an interesting addition with 10 games left in the regular season. With Dave Bolland sidelined for an indefinite period of time, at least at this point, and the uncertainty in the Patrick Sharp left knee injury (which we’ll learn more about today) Kruger would be the equivalent of a deadline acquisition if he can make the transition to the NHL quickly and seamlessly.
Just how this affects the Hawks’ cap financially and if it’s a move in direct response to the potential severity of Dave Bolland’s injury remains to be seen.