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Player Evaluation: Marcus Kruger

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  By Tony DeFrancesco

PHOTO / SMI
After entering his first full season last year, Marcus Kruger has been somewhat of an enigma. In his rookie year, Kruger tallied 9 goals and 17 assists for a total of 26 points and a plus-11 in 71 games. His production helped him finish 11th in rookie scoring, keeping him slightly behind a highly touted prospect in Sean Couturier and ahead of alleged blue chip prospects such as Brayden Schenn and Brett Connolly.

Kruger saw his ice-time allocated anywhere between the 2nd and 4th line, as well as earning ample opportunities on the penalty-kill and the power-play. He's a good two-way player that has a good read on the play. He isn't necessarily eye-popping because he sticks to meat and potatoes hockey, and that is why Joel Quenneville isn't afraid to utilize him in all game situations.

However, at 22 years old, he's far from perfect. His face-off percentage needs to improve, he needs to get stronger on the puck, and he needs to provide more desperation and hunger for the puck offensively on a more consistent basis. He's a little bit undersized for the center position at this point in his career, but he's got a low center of gravity and if he adds some weight he could be hard to knock off the puck. He started to pick up his game towards the end of the season which is a great sign for him moving forward.

After the Blackhawks were eliminated by the Phoenix Coyotes, Kruger dressed for Sweden in the World Championships and had 5 points in 8 games of the tournament -- two of his goals were game winners. Sweden didn't win anything, but it's encouraging to know he had a productive tournament.

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RAISING THE BAR

So what should we expect for Kruger this upcoming season? First off, I think he'll be given every opportunity to fill the center void on the 2nd line and if he can gain some traction on a productive line I don't see any reason why he can't improve on his 26 point rookie season unless someone like Brandon Pirri proves to be more effective and steals his job. At this point there is no indication that the Blackhawks are ready to go that direction so we'll have to assume that Kruger will be in the line-up every night. Other than that, his face-off numbers have to improve and he simply needs to get stronger and build on his 6' 0" frame.

In addition to his physical attributes, I'd like to see more on where he stands mentally. Overall Kruger is a quiet player, he doesn't really get caught up in the media hype and keeps to himself. I don't really expect him to flaunt a shining personality when he's interviewed, but I'd like to see a bit more from him in terms of character and less of the answers he learned in media class. Maybe it's just me, or maybe that's just the type of person he is and he is truly focused on the game, (I get the feeling he's more timid due to the spotlight than focused at times) but it's nice to see the fire every now and then.

I think at times people expected more out of Kruger because they just didn't realize that he was a rookie last season. However, his development has been pretty steady and he improved throughout the year. I think it's just a matter of being patient and recognizing that not everyone is a Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane as far as producing offense right away. Look at the Detroit Red Wings model and check out Valtteri Filppula. His career has seen a fairly steady upward trend in terms of production and he is among the countless of other players they've developed on their roster that have followed a similar path. If that is any indication of how Kruger is developing, then he'll be fine. The production will come, until then he is more than capable of holding the fort.

*Check out Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler, and Pavel Datsyuk for more examples of improvement in production. For examples on the Blackhawks, check out Viktor Stalberg, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith.

PREDICTION: 78 GAMES | 12 GOALS | 24 ASSISTS | 36 POINTS | PLUS-14
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