Over the last three NHL seasons, a total of 159 games played, recently re-acquired center Marcus Kruger has scored just six goals.
But that likely means little to coach Joel Quenneville and the Chicago Blackhawks. Because Kruger’s worth to the Blackhawks has little to do with what happens at the offensive side of the ice.
Bringing back Kruger is all about defense.
During his first stint in Chicago, was one of the better shutdown centers in the game, as this January 2017 article from The Athletic’s Sean Tierney explained.
Few players were sent onto the ice to handle faceoffs in the defensive zone more often than Kruger. In the 2015-16 season, he was given a 0.19 zone-start ratio (ZSR) by Corsica (closer to 0 means more defensive zone starts), the fourth lowest in the NHL. The following season, Kruger was in a three-way tie for 11th at 0.3. Last season with Carolina, though, he get out of his own end for faceoffs far more often, at a ZSR of 0.45, the highest mark for Kruger since the 2012-13 season.
Kruger’s return also figures to have a major impact on the penalty kill units. For virtually every season that he was in Chicago last time around, Kruger was the team leader in shorthanded time on ice. The only season he didn’t lead the team was in the 2015-16 season, which Kruger missed half of due to injuries (but he still led the team with an average of 2:23 SH TOI per game). Chicago’s penalty kill was ranked 20th in the NHL last season with a success rate of 79.24 percent. Carolina had the league’s sixth-best PK last season, with Kruger playing an average of 1:11 of SH TOI (fifth on the team) in 48 games.
Despite that defensive focus, though, Kruger’s possession metrics rarely lagged far behind his teammates. In his six seasons with the Hawks, Kruger’s CF% in relationship to the team was never lower than 4.76 percent, which occurred in the 2014-15 season. In the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, he was actually above the team rate by 1.69 and 0.72 percent, respectively — an impressive feat considering that Kruger was so often utilized in the defensive zone and often matched up against the opponent’s top scoring threat.
For a team that gave up the fifth-most high-danger chances during the 2017-18 season (per Natural Stat Trick’s data), bringing back a player like Kruger could help limit the number of scoring chances generated by Chicago’s opponents during the 2018-19 season.