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Blackhawks sign Marcus Kruger to two-year contract, wrapping up summer signings
The last piece of the 2013-14 Blackhawks puzzle, restricted free agent center Marcus Kruger, agreed to a two-year contract with the Hawks on Friday. So barring anything unforeseen, general manager Stan Bowman is done making player moves for the summer, and the lineup the Hawks open their Stanley Cup defense with in October will be composed of players already in the organization.
“We might look to add some depth in Rockford, but for the Blackhawks, I think we’ve said all along we need to have some opportunities for our young players to step forward, and that kind of brings us to what we have here,” Bowman said Friday.
Kruger had four goals and nine assists in his second season with the Hawks, forming one of the league’s top penalty-killing duos with Michael Frolik, who was traded to Winnipeg on June 30. Kruger spent most of the season on the fourth line at both center and left wing, and also spent some time at second-line center, when Dave Bolland was injured during the regular season. His versatility and defensive awareness made the 23-year-old particularly valuable.
“Marcus had a great season for us,” Bowman said. “I think when we brought him over [from Sweden] we kind of expected this role for him, and looking at his progression over the last two seasons, I think I’m not surprised that he’s done that. This is really what we liked when we drafted him. We looked back and he’s a very tenacious player. I think he’s very smart. He’s gained some strength over the last couple of years, which has allowed him to play against better players and stronger players. [He has the] ability to help us in a lot of different ways — he played some wing for us in the playoffs and a lot of center during the regular season, he’s a big part of the penalty killing, and that’s sort of his profile going forward, a versatile defender. And he’s worked on his offensive game a little bit. And looking into next year I think his role’s only going to get bigger.”
Kruger is a candidate to take the second-line center spot next season, though Brandon Pirri — the AHL’s leading scorer last season — likely will get the first crack at it. Michal Handzus will start either on the fourth line or as a platoon player, coach Joel Quenneville said on Friday.
“We’ve always liked Kruger,” Quenneville said. “He complements the way you like your group to play. He adds speed, he adds purpose. He really enhanced our penalty killing to a different level this year. He was very instrumental in taking leadership and ownership of being a part of that group. Zero maintenance. You appreciate how he competes every game and [for] every puck. Exactly how you want a guy to play.”
The only free agent left on the Hawks’ NHL roster is Jamal Mayers, who is considering retirement at age 38.