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If there was an award for the Most Improved Blackhawk, Marcus Kruger would be tough to beat for it. Kruger showed why he was the main reason Dave Bolland was expendable last year. He has a lot of the same qualities Bolland had minus the epic trolling skills, even though every team seems to take their shots at Frogger. Kruger will never become a major goal scorer in the NHL, but his skill set is a perfect match for a team loaded with scorers like the Blackhawks.
Kruger put up a career high 28 points (8 G, 20 A) in 2013-14. All of his points were at even strength except for one shorthanded assist. Much like in 2013, Frogger did his best work while the Blackhawks were shorthanded. He averaged 2:23 of penalty kill time per game, which was by far the most of any forward. Kruger was the anchor of the penalty kill unit which struggled to find the right combinations after the departure of Michal Frolik. The Blackhawks did boast one of the best penalty kills units in the league after January 1st and Kruger was a big reason for that.
The biggest improvement in Kruger's game came at the faceoff dot. He improved on his 46.2 win % from 2013 to a 56.7 win % which was the sixth best in the entire NHL. As the season progressed, it was a nice luxury to have someone else besides Jonathan Toews to draws in their own end at big points of a game. This led to Q trusting him more and a team high 50.7% defensive zone starts.
No matter how whacky Joel Quenneville's line blender got during the season, the one constant was the Hawks 4th line of Kruger centering Brandon Bollig and Ben Smith. Even though this line was listed fourth on the game sheet, it was the team's third line for most of the season. Q would normally give this line the second shift of the game and period and they would see some of their opponents' top players. For most of the season, the 4th line put up the best possession numbers on the team, even with 52 on the ice.
Kruger still takes too many penalties for my liking. He was sixth on the team with 36 PIM, which doesn't sound like much but that was 18 penalty kills with your best penalty killer in the box. Frogger never met a delay of game penalty he didn't like.
Kruger is never going to be the media darling or the poster boy for this franchise but he is a very important player in the Hawks' success. Every Cup contending team needs the depth in their bottom six with players who can be defensively responsible and play meaningful minutes during the course of an 82 game season and that is exactly what the Blackhawks have in Marcus Kruger.
Final Grade : B