One sore spot for the Carolina Hurricanes in recent years has been the play of their fourth line. Past holders of the center role with that unit such as Jay McClement and Manny Malhotra have brought purported face-off and penalty killing ability to the team, but their results at even strength have led to the ‘Canes regularly finding themselves on the losing end of fourth line battles.
Enter Marcus Kruger, whose excellence in that role in Chicago played a part in two of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championships, in 2013 and 2015.
Kruger in Chicago
As alluded to previously, Kruger was a considerable part of two Stanley Cup championships during his time with the Blackhawks. Chicago made Kruger their 5th round pick in the 2009 entry draft, so the Swede faced considerable odds to even make it to the NHL at the time.
His first full season came in 2011-2012, when he posted 26 points in 71 games. His career high in points came two years later when he put up a total of 28 in 81 games.
But do not fret, offensive production is far from Kruger’s calling card. Since he entered the league, Kruger has a 200 minute lead on every other Blackhawks forward in terms of time on the ice while shorthanded.
He’s also a career 50.5% in the face-off circle, if that’s something that you place value on. Kruger’s usage was unique in that he was often absolutely buried by his former bench boss Joel Quenneville in terms of zone starts. According to hockey reference, Kruger started more than 75% of his shifts that began with faceoffs in either the offensive or defensive zone in the d-zone for the last four consecutive years.
Simply put, Kruger is a defensive specialist at center. He’s above average in that role due in large part to his ability to drive possession positively anyway.
Kruger in Vegas
Haha, just kidding.
Kruger in Carolina
Perhaps the most exciting possibility of Kruger’s addition to the team will be the flexibility that he provides head coach Bill Peters.
For many years, Jordan Staal has taken on every single tough matchup that could possibly be thrown at him due to the lack of options at his disposal.
With Kruger, things change a little bit. Peters will be able to deploy Staal in a role that will be much more conducive to offensive production. Not so much at the end of last year, but there have been times when Staal’s status as the only shutdown forward on the team dictated that his linemates would be defensively-oriented forwards.
Hearken back to the days of Nathan Gerbe and Pat Dwyer, or more recently Joakim Nordstrom and Andrej Nestrasil, being seen as the best possible fits to play with Staal, and you’ll quickly see why the move to bring in Kruger makes a ton of sense.
With Kruger taking the designation of being the team’s lead shutdown center, Peters can play Staal with some of the bigger offensive threats on the roster, as we started to see at times last year. I could easily envision Staal starting the season with Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm as his wingers.
As for Kruger, he’ll almost assuredly stay on the fourth line for most of the season, barring a rash of injuries. He’ll also serve as a huge boon to Carolina’s penalty killing unit, which was already one of the best in the league to begin with. It’s another area in which he certainly represents an upgrade over McClement.