Marcus Kruger (Steve Woltmann/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Blackhawks will be without a key member of their bottom six for the next four months as Marcus Kruger needed surgery to repair a dislocated wrist. Kruger, 25, went into the boards awkwardly and left Thursday’s game against Edmonton in the second period.
The Chicago Blackhawks are going to have to find a new center to anchor their bottom six and operate as their top penalty killer, as pivot Marcus Kruger won’t be back in the lineup anytime soon.
Kruger, 25, was injured Thursday after colliding with the boards, and the Blackhawks announced Kruger underwent surgery today to repair a dislocation of his left wrist. “The surgery went well,” Blackhawks team doctor Dr. Michael Terry said in a statement. “We anticipate Marcus will return to hockey activities in approximately four months.”
Looking at base statistics, Kruger’s loss doesn’t look like it should hurt the Blackhawks much. After all, he has one point, an assist, in 33 games this season. However, losing a versatile center who mans the top penalty kill unit, takes the bulk of defensive zone starts and is one of the best play-driving pivots in the league could be a crushing blow for a Chicago team that hasn’t been as strong defensively as previous seasons.
The dislocation is equally as disappointing for Kruger, who settled for a one-year, $1.5-million deal with Chicago in the off-season even though he was looking for a long-term deal. The Blackhawks and Kruger came to terms late in the off-season and the center was in perfect position to get a pay raise at season’s end. Though that may still be on the table, Kruger’s next contract could certainly suffer because of the injury.
Kruger will be a restricted free agent on July 1 and is well deserving of the increase in pay. Production-wise, he’s never had a season better than his eight-goal, 28-point 2013-14 campaign, but he’s often tasked with the shutting down the opposition. Kruger has started more than 57 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the defensive zone this season. No other player who has started in their own zone that often — there are three — has a shot attempts for percentage above 45 percent. Kruger sits at 47.8 percent.
Kruger has been an incredibly important piece of the Blackhawks past two Stanley Cup championships in 2013 and 2015. On the 2013 team, he formed one of the most formidable penalty killing units in the league alongside current Calgary Flame Michael Frolik, and Kruger was again crucial on the defensive side of the puck during the Chicago’s 2015 Cup win. He also chipped in the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Western Conference final in what was the longest game in Blackhawks history.
With Kruger sidelined, the Blackhawks called up 22-year-old Phillip Danault from the Rockford IceHogs and it’s likely he’ll play fourth-line minutes with the rest of the bottom-six shuffled. It’s unlikely Chicago coach Joel Quenneville breaks up the two top units, though, as the combination of Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin has been red hot, and Jonathan Toews’ unit with Marian Hossa and Teuvo Teravainen was responsible for the first three Blackhawks goals Thursday.