We made a lot of fun of Marcus Kruger last season. It wasn't about him really, but about the way he was being sold and handled by the organization. It was kind of unfair on the player himself. This year, before the season started, we said there was no bigger question than Kruger and what he could do or what he'd be, and it would also determine what the Hawks would have to do at the deadline and now this offseason.
The funny thing is now, after his first full season in the NHL, we basically have no answers to those questions.
Marcus Kruger Stats: 71G 9G 17A 26P +11 22PIM 0.68 Behind The Net Rating, -0.019 Quality of Comp., 6.92 CORSI/60
The Good: The questions about Kruger and where he fits aren't because we didn't see a lot of pluses from Kruger. We did. The most noticeable was similar to Andrew Shaw's most noticeable trait, a fearlessness to go where his size suggests he shouldn't. Kruger was never afraid of getting to the net, and his 9 goals probably didn't break 20 feet on the distance chart. He was also involved on the boards and in the corners, and what he didn't have in size he made up for with quick hands and smarts. Defensively, the kid was almost always in the right position, and at least dogged in his pursuit if not strong enough to always win those battles. Certainly useful on the penalty kill as well. There was a brief spurt where he actually made things happen on the power play as well.
The Bad: A lot of this is out of Kruger's control. The playoffs were a great finding out, as Kruger's size and strength, or lack thereof, was greatly exposed by a big team like Phoenix. He was a ghost. He doesn't win a lot of faceoffs. As a center, though he's smart, he's not a great playmaker or a great finisher. After a while, he continued to get power play time even though he wasn't doing anything with it, though that's not really on him. Could be a normal rookie wall, coudl be something else.
Contract: 1 year left on his entry level deal at 900K
Stick Around or Hit The Bricks: One of the larger questions facing the Hawks this summer, as Kruger has so many variables. It depends on what they do in other spots, whether Dave Bolland is truly on the block and is actually moved, whether a center is brought in anyway, and some other questions. You could argue that Kruger will grow from his rookie year, get a little stronger and maybe a little bigger, and look like a #2 center for longer stretches than he did this season. But in the end, I look at Kruger and I see a player who is just short of a top six role. He gets to the right areas, but isn't a lethal enough finisher to give you 25 goals. He has an eye for a pass here and there, but I don't see the vision or playmaking abilities to get you 40 assists in a season. And he may always have trouble with bigger opponents. So then what is he? A 4th line center next year? Is he really cut out for that? Maybe given two genuine fourth line wingers he could be, but he might be too skilled for that role.
I suppose the argument for trading Dave Bolland is that Marcus Kruger could take over that role, which he seems more suited for (or Phillip Danault will be in the near future). But Kruger doesn't have the snarl that makes Bolland so unplayable to opponents. And Bolland is a better offensive player and always will be.
It's not that Kruger is a bad player, far from it. But all the things the Hawks have needs, he seems just a bit short on. He's an allowance horse when the Hawks probably need a stakes one. To me, that means the Hawks should listen and shouldn't hesitate to make Kruger part of any package that nets them a genuine #2 center or a top second-pairing d-man (as silly as that sentence may seem). There are ready replacements for Kruger already in the system knocking on the door, such as the aforementioned Danault who may be more cut out to serve an apprenticeship on the 4th line.
However, I won't tear my eyeballs out if the Hawks make other improvements elsewhere and try and roll the dice with Kruger as the #2 again. He may grow into a 2-3 hybrid that Bolland already is. Maybe they don't see an offer worth giving up on Kruger for. But right now, he just doesn't fit the gaps the Hawks have perfectly.