Season Preview: Marcus Kruger

By Jon Fromi

The circumstances surrounding the arrival of center Marcus Kruger late in the 2010-11 season set up the young Swedish import for scrutiny that was unrealistic as well as completely unnecessary.

Chicago GM Stan Bowman admitted that Kruger came into a tough situation last spring in his remarks to the media Friday. The head scratcher is that Bowman created that situation himself.

Kruger, the Blackhawks’ fifth-round draft selection in 2009, made an impression on the club in Chicago’s prospect camp and, according to Bowman, had a shot at making the team last fall.  This prompted Bowman to sign Kruger to an entry-level deal.  Kruger then chose to return to the Swedish Elite League, where he had played 53 games in his first two seasons as a professional.

Whether Kruger didn’t feel ready for the rigors of the NHL or simply wanted to cash some more SEL paychecks, Kruger returned home. Playing in 52 contests, he led sixth-place Djurgardens IF in scoring. Seems like Bowman misjudged that situation as well, but it’s what happened in the spring with which issue can be taken.

With the Blackhawks scuffling for a spot in the playoffs and Dave Bolland out with concussion symptoms, Bowman approached Kruger’s agents.  Kruger’s SEL squad was facing an early exit from their playoffs and would be available to join the ‘Hawks organization.

Djurgardens IF lost their first-round series in seven games (prophetic?), and Kruger was whisked across the Atlantic mere days after Patrick Sharp also went down.

Here’s where Bowman made things more difficult for himself.

He might have done well to state the obvious, which was that the Blackhawks were taking advantage of Kruger’s availability to fill a spot created by Sharp and Bolland being out. Then he could have brought up Kruger or let him get his feet wet in Rockford with no expectations other than getting a look at a young prospect.

Instead, he insisted that the injuries to Sharp and Bolland had nothing to do with Kruger’s recall to the Blackhawks. Bringing up Kruger was what had been planned all season.

Bowman’s statements were tough to swallow even as he made them.  How could it be the plan when he had no idea how long Kruger would be committed to the SEL playoffs?

How could Bowman have thought that bringing up a 20-year-old European prospect and tossing him into the tail end of a frantic playoff push was a sound plan?

Actions spoke louder than words in this case; Kruger played in seven regular season games, taking a seat the second Sharp returned to the lineup.  Kruger did play in five playoff games, largely as a replacement for Tomas Kopecky at wing.

Words told us that Kruger would have been in the lineup regardless.  Actions told us that he was only playing because of injuries.

Kruger didn’t play terribly in his short stint with the club, showing some moxie in the corners if not the strength or frame (he’s listed at 5’11” and 172 pounds going into camp) to keep from getting knocked around there. Kruger is far from proficient in the faceoff circle, and the ‘Hawks drastically limited the time he spent there. He showed flashes of the heady play that has drawn attention of scouts on both sides of the Atlantic. As a young prospect in his first action, there was a lot to like in his game.

As a difference maker on a squad bent on making the playoffs, however, it was clear that he wasn’t quite ready for the responsibility. He certainly wasn’t ready to make the impact at center that was needed at that point of the season or what had been implied by Bowman. Kruger, who in fact spent time on the wing in the playoffs, may have benefited more by skating in Rockford the last two weeks.

Ben Smith’s call up and subsequent success with the ‘Hawks brings up another question.

Was it sound thinking on management’s part to think a player with limited experience with an NHL rink and Kruger’s numbers in the SEL (six G, 29 A, plus-12) was so much more impressive than Ben Smith’s AHL totals (19 G, 12 A, minus-three) that we immediately needed him in the Chicago lineup?

Smith came up with little fanfare and became the darling of the playoffs.  He didn’t skate circles around Kruger, who wound up with a lone assist in the 12 games he skated with the Blackhawks, but of course Bowman heaped far greater expectations on the Swede.

Kruger, who returned home to put up three points on the way to earning a silver medal for Sweden in the World Championships, is a promising prospect. He may someday be able to showcase his skills in NHL rinks on a nightly basis. He seems to have a leg up on a spot in the middle of one Chicago’s forward lines coming into camp.

Patrick Sharp’s appendectomy ensures that Kruger will see plenty of time centering some of the big names in the pre-season. Kruger has maintained the stance that he is in North America to play in the NHL. It looks as though he may very well do that this season. However, there may be a legitimate question concerning Kruger and his immediate future in the organization.

From a development standpoint, Kruger may be best off starting the season in Rockford, where he can skate big minutes and adapt to hockey on this side of the pond in a less critical atmosphere. Conversely, Kruger stands to take a huge pay cut by logging a full season in the AHL.

With no guarantee of being on the NHL roster last season, Kruger stayed home in Sweden. Would he do the same thing if faced with a trip west on I-90? More importantly, would this attitude affect the Blackhawks’ thinking as to where he winds up?

Kruger can render such concerns invalid by showing that he’s ready to handle the workload on the second, or possibly the third line. If he fails to sew up a job out of camp in those spots, it will fall on Bowman to convince Kruger that he should confine his 2011-12 skating to this continent, whether it’s done in Chicago or further west.

Jon Fromi

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5 Responses to Season Preview: Marcus Kruger

  1. Stan Bowman never said “that was the plan all along.” That came from a 144 character twit from some media guy and not from the Blackhawks.

    After the trade deadline the Hawks had around 100k left in cap space. The Hawks could have brought up Smith at the time for the rest of the season. Instead the Hawks were “saving” that money for something else. It is pretty easy to see that they made the decision at that time to bring Kruger over with their last 100k of cap space.

    So when Bowman was asked if the Hawks would have brought Kruger over if Bolland had NOT been hurt, Bowman answered correctly. And it was obviously the correct answer. The Hawks needed to have “saved” cap space before Bolland was injured to make the move with Kruger. So it was the Media that mistook the answer given.

  2. For the record, Bowman was quoted by Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times March 23rd on the subject of Kruger’s arrival:

    ‘‘You never know how it’s going to go with their season in terms of the timing and when they’ll be eliminated,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘But our plan always was to bring him over here whenever the season ended.’’

    To me, if Bolland isn’t looking like he’s going to miss at least a few games (we all know how it turned out), Kruger may still have come over, though not in Chicago. Like Hayes and Gilbert, he would have skated in Rockford.

    Kruger may indeed have arrived on our shores regardless of the injury situation. I agree that the “Plan All Along” took on a life of its own, but Bowman sticking in Chicago right away didn’t do Kruger any favors. It just created expectations with which he should not have been saddled.

  3. You seem to be upset that Kruger wasn’t brought over to play in the AHL. My understanding of it is that he is NOT allowed to join the AHL from the SEL after the NHL trade deadline. The kids from Juniors could come over but I don’t think you can add someone from a pro league like the SEL.

    I do believe that Kruger was going to come over as a Black Ace after the SEL season was complete. I also believe at the trade deadline when the Hawks couldn’t get a player they wanted, they made the decision then to “save” cap space and add him to the NHL roster. Again they had to have made the decision before Bolland was injured to have the cap space left to add Kruger to the NHL roster.

    Each Clear Day roster [NHL trade deadline] consists of a maximum of 22 players.

    According to AHL by-laws, only those players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the 2008-09 AHL regular season and in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension.

    Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout
    contracts, only after their respective junior or college seasons are
    complete.”

  4. Sorry bad cut and paste. Same clear day rules for the 2010/11 season as the previous ones.

  5. I was operating under the premise that he is a signed draft choice under an entry contract with the ‘Hawks. However, as Kruger was coming from a pro league, I believe that you are correct.

    Slightly different wording on the 2011 release (draft choice rather than junior player), but sending him to Rockford wouldn’t have been an option. Mea culpa.

    I still don’t believe he was ready to jump into the lineup when he did. The fact that he sat upon Sharp returning bears that out. I know it sounds like I’m hating on Kruger, but ultimately all I’m saying is that he might be better off with a few months in Rockford.

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