Marcus Kruger had a smile on his face when he greeted the media following Sunday’s practice.
Maybe it’s because he’s practicing with his teammates again. Maybe it’s due to getting that three-year deal he signed last week. Or maybe it’s because his long injury hiatus is finally nearing its end.
“Yeah, I’m not going to lie. It’s been tough,” said Kruger, who’s been out since mid-December with a wrist injury. “Some days have been worse than others. I’ve been trying to take it day by day and do everything I can do to get back as soon as possible. It’s been a long time, so I’m pretty excited to be out there with the boys again.”
Kruger is still not taking contact, as evidence by him avoiding battle drills on Sunday. But he could still return on the team’s four-game road trip at the end of this month, which is good news for him and the Blackhawks.
“I would think in and around that time, whether it’s during it or the end of it, for sure, we’re thinking,” Quenneville said. “Getting him into practice was a big step for us and as soon as we get the clearance for contact, we’ll get a better idea when he’ll be close to playing.”
Just getting back with teammates was a thrill for Kruger, who’s been skating on his own – or with Marian Hossa when Hossa was healing from his lower-body injury – for a few weeks now. Teammates were happy to see him back on Sunday.
“It’s great for him. Obviously we’re happy to see him rewarded with the recent signing as well, so he’s been working hard,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s an unfortunate situation for him to have to go through that but we know that he’s going to take advantage of that rest and come back stronger than he was before. So we’re looking forward to having that depth at center. We’ve got some guys that have done a great job filling in for that role. You look at Razzy [Dennis Rasmussen], when Phil Danault was here. Shawzy’s [Andrew Shaw] been playing well and we know he can be relied upon in that situation. But obviously when we get Krugs back, it’ll help a lot.”
It should also help the penalty kill, which has struggled lately. For Kruger, it’s just about returning in every capacity he can. It’s been a long four months but March has been kinder to him: not only is he getting healthier but he signed a three-year deal worth just over $9 million last week. Kruger, who had to be patient last summer when the cash-strapped Blackhawks couldn’t give him the raise and term they wanted to at the time, was happy with the end result.
“I hoped it would happen this summer. It didn’t but I tried to be patient and I’m thankful they signed me here, even though I was injured and didn’t play my best hockey before that,” said Kruger. “So really thankful for that.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]
Kruger was also sporting his new number, 22, during Sunday’s practice. The center returned Andrew Ladd’s old number to him when Ladd was traded here earlier this month – “I mean, Ladder’s been here before and I think the number means a lot to him, so it was nothing big,” Kruger said. But Kruger is holding onto No. 22, despite that being the old number of Dale Weise, another trade-deadline acquisition.
“I couldn’t do it twice,” Kruger said to laughs. “That’s a little bit too much.”
Kruger’s a much happier guy these days. He got the longer deal he hoped for last summer and is close to returning. It’s been a long wait for Kruger – for both of those things.
“When I found out I was going to be out for a long period I was surprised. But I moved my focus on trying to get back quicker than I thought I could,” he said. “It was tough getting to know that I was going to be out for an extended period. It’s been a long, long journey and hopefully I’m getting closer now.”