Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger 'pretty close' to returning for Blackhawks

Marcus Kruger has been sidelined a little longer than the originally expected three weeks with his right hand injury. Not that any missed time is enjoyable.

"I wanted to get back there probably a few weeks ago but unfortunately I couldn't," said Kruger, who suffered his injury on Dec. 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I tried to listen to the doctors and do everything I can instead to be ready when I get cleared. That's my mindset."

Kruger is close, but not quite there, as the Blackhawks prepared for Sunday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger skated with his teammates for the first time since being injured but wasn't among the line rushes. The center took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice. Kruger pronounced himself, "pretty close," to returning. Coach Joel Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is over the next few days. The Blackhawks play again Tuesday and Thursday before heading into the All-Star break this weekend.

The Blackhawks have missed Kruger's versatility and especially his play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks' kill has been fine through Kruger's absence but he nevertheless is a big part of it when he's healthy.

"We have a lot of options and when he's out everyone gets a more important role, whether starting or faceoffs. And we have a rotation of five guys who are in there most of the time. But he definitely absorbs the most responsibility when he's playing in that area," Quenneville said of Kruger. "So it's nice you get to try some other guys and you get deeper as you go along."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

One of the players who's emerged in Kruger's absence is Tanner Kero, who filled his third-line center void. Kero and linemates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa clicked on the dads trip, coming up with big plays and points in the Blackhawks' victories over Colorado and Boston. As of now, Kero appears to have the hold on third-line center.

"I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

Kruger said he's fine if that means returning to fourth-line center duties. Regardless, he'll help bolster the Blackhawks' forward lines. The last step is likely contact, which Kruger got a little of – outside of faceoffs – in Sunday's skate. Kruger's had to wait a little longer than expected on his injury but he's getting there.

“Obviously [I want to] get back and playing the same way,” Kruger said. “First I want to get healthy and then get back playing my best and do everything I can for the team.”

2019 NHL Draft Profile: D Bowen Byram

2019 NHL Draft Profile: D Bowen Byram

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Bowen Byram

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 193 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

"He's had an outstanding year. Second half of the year he's really been outstanding. He really kind of drew a lot of attention to himself. Well-deserved. He's a dynamic player and he affects the outcome of a game."

Byram describes his own game:

On Duncan Keith comparisons: "I would say that’s pretty accurate. He’s a really energetic guy, good on both sides of the puck, kills penalties, runs the power play. That’s kind of how I’d describe myself, for sure. That’s definitely a fair comparison."

NHL player comparable: Duncan Keith

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks have used their last three first-round picks on defensemen, but positional needs aren't a priority when you're drafting this high — although, in the grand scheme of things, it's a pressing need despite the overflow of defensemen in the pipeline. TSN's Craig Button has said multiple times on the Hawks Talk Podcast that Byram is a future No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, and he would immediately become the top prospect in the organization.

Byram, known for his swagger and two-way game, has drawn comparisons to Drew Doughty and Keith, both of whom have won a Norris Trophy — Keith has two. More importantly, Doughty and Keith also have their names on the Stanley Cup multiple times and were both driving forces during those title runs. These are the types of defensemen you win championships with.

Byram set records in the Western Hockey League as a 17-year-old, and he could probably step into the pros immediately. But that's asking a lot for a defenseman, so he'd be more likely to become an everyday NHL player starting in 2020-21.

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2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Trevor Zegras

2019 NHL Draft Profile: C Trevor Zegras

From June 10-20, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile one top prospect per day — 11 total — leading up to the 2019 NHL Draft as the Blackhawks prepare to pick third overall.

Trevor Zegras

Position: Center
Height: 6-foot-0
Weight: 169 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report from Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

"Trevor is a high skilled centerman, very good skater, very, very creative, comfortable and creative with the puck."

Zegras describes his own game:

On his creativity: "I think growing up, watching a bunch of guys in the NHL like Patrick Kane mess around the ice, just something I’ve always done as a little kid. Maybe I rolled into the driveway and work on fun passes. It’s what I’m really good at."

NHL player comparable: Patrick Kane

Fit for Blackhawks:

Talk to any player on USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and they'll say Zegras was the most offensively gifted player of the group, which is saying a lot when you consider some of the names he's up against (Matthew Boldy, Cole Caufield, Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, to name a few).

At the NHL scouting combine, Zegras mentioned Kane several times as somebody he tries modeling his game after. The vision, the passing, the skating, the playmaking ability, the hockey IQ. He has it all offensively, and also doesn't get enough credit for his two-way game.

Zegras is somebody that has quickly been rising on draft boards, and it's because he has the potential to be a 90-point player in the NHL as a center. His name has been discussed by the Blackhawks at No. 3 and he's certainly a tempting option. Pair Zegras with Kane for the next decade and it's scary to think about the numbers the two could put up together.

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