Blackhawks

Kruger earns shot as second-line center

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Kruger earns shot as second-line center

Marcus Krugers play has earned him more time on the power play and more minutes overall. Now its earning him a shot at second-line center.

Kruger was skating between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on Thursday, and hell be there on Friday night when the Blackhawks host the New York Islanders. For Kruger, its another opportunity in a young season thats been full of them.

Im just going to try and play my game, he said. I know the guys (Im with) are good with the puck but I still need to hold onto it and make plays myself as well.

Kruger said hes gained confidence in his game; his coaches have gained confidence in Kruger.

What got our attention was his patience and play recognition on the offensive side. Playing with top guys, lets see if more of that can come out, coach Joel Quenneville said. Marcus gives us an option based on his performance.

Kruger has adapted quickly since his arrival here last spring, from different linemates to more playing time to special-teams responsibilities. Hes gotten help from all of his teammates, especially his fellow Swedes Niklas Hjalmarsson and Viktor Stalberg.

It helped him a little bit, having other Swedish guys he could talk to if there was something he didnt get, Stalberg said. Hes definitely coming into his own. Hes a lot more confident now than I think he was coming into the season. You cant teach hockey sense and skill he has.

Yes, folks, theres more line tinkering afoot. Krugers moving to second-line center is worth a shot. Its more responsibility on both sides of the puck, but Kruger has done well in other tests this season. The Blackhawks are happy with him.

If it doesnt work, they move Kruger somewhere else and probably put Patrick Kane back at center for a bit. There are options to be had, and Quenneville is going to look into all of them to get the offense going again.

Well see how (Kruger) plays with the top guys. Thats more of an experiment that way as well, Quenneville said. But knowing you always have Kaner to the middle in your back pocket is a nice option to have.

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

What Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan trades mean for future of Blackhawks defense

After finishing 30th in goals against average (3.55) and 31st in penalty kill percentage (72.7) this past season, the Blackhawks are clearly making it a priority to patch up their defense this summer. And that's been evident with the acquisitions of defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta.

But it raises some interesting questions about the future of the Blackhawks blue line.

With the de Haan and Maatta additions, the Blackhawks now have five defensemen under contract through at least the 2021-22 season: Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million cap hit), Duncan Keith ($5.538 million), de Haan ($4.55 million), Maatta ($4.083 million) and Connor Murphy ($3.85 million). That's $24.8 million tied up to five guys.

The money isn't the primary concern, though. It's the limited amount of roster spots available. The Blackhawks don't have to immediately figure out how it's going to work a year from now and beyond, but it makes you wonder how the cards may eventually be shuffled.

Let's run through the situations:

— Erik Gustafsson had a breakout season and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He's obviously not part of the five current players under contract after next season, putting the Blackhawks in a spot where they have to consider trading him or be comfortable with letting him walk for nothing if he isn't re-signed. (They could always trade his negotiating rights after next season and pull off a sign-and-trade as well, if it came to that).

And even if Gustafsson is re-signed, the Blackhawks would then have six players locked up for the 2020-21 season and on, and that's enough to submit a lineup.

— Henri Jokiharju, who was drafted No. 29 overall in 2017, is probably ready to take the next step and become an everyday player. Where does he fit into the long-term plans?

— Adam Boqvist, who was taken No. 8 overall in 2018, likely needs one more year in the OHL before making the jump to the NHL, which would put him on a timeline to become part of the Blackhawks next season. Does he occupy that sixth spot if another one isn't opened by then?

— Nicolas Beaudin, who was drafted No. 27 overall in 2018, is expected to start the upcoming season in Rockford after four years in the QMJHL but might be NHL-ready by the 2020-21 campaign.

— And then there's Ian Mitchell, who's returning to Denver for his junior season and will serve as the team's captain. He's said all along that he intends to sign with the Blackhawks once he's finished with college, but does the organization value him enough to create a spot for him when he's ready?

To make things a little more complicated, the Seattle expansion draft is set to occur in 2021 and the same rules will apply as Vegas in 2017.

The Blackhawks have the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters and one goaltender. All players with no-movement clauses at the time of the expansion draft (and who decline to waive them) must be protected; Keith and Seabrook have a NMC. And all first- and second-year pros are exempt; Jokiharju would have to be protected.

As of this moment, the Blackhawks are likely to use the eight-skater option, but they will also have valuable forwards to protect. They're going to lose a good player one way or another, and it's probably going to come from the defensive group. All of this comes into play when weighing roster decisions for next season and beyond.

As stated above, the Blackhawks do not have to make an immediate decision on the future of their blue line corps. They can play out the 2019-20 season with the group as currently constructed. But the decisions the Blackhawks have to face next season could impact how Stan Bowman operates the rest of this summer and throughout the upcoming campaign.

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WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

WATCH: Blackhawks draft pick Kirby Dach throws out the first pitch at Wrigley in his first trip to Chicago

Kirby Dach was taken by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Friday.

On Monday, the Blackhawks introduced him to the city of Chicago. Dach took his first trip to Chicago for his introductory press conference.

Later in the day, the Canadian threw out the first pitch at the Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Dach didn't throw a strike, but it wasn't a blooper reel pitch either.

Watch Dach's first pitch in the video above.

 

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