As rumored yesterday, today it was announced that the Carolina Hurricanes had acquired center Marcus Kruger from the Las Vegas Golden Knights in return for a fifth-round draft pick.
The move adds yet another former-Blackhawk to the Hurricanes roster.
I have mixed feelings on the acquisition partly dependent on where Francis/Peters see him slotting, partly based on Kruger himself partly based on the statement it makes about how the Hurricanes plan to build their 2017-18 forward group.
Marcus Kruger profile
At his core, Marcus Kruger is a very good checking line center. On some very good Blackhawks teams, he centered a third line in a top-heavy system that generated the bulk of its scoring from a lineup that featured two lines stocked with a bunch of offense and had Kruger centering a third line often tasked with taking the hard match ups and trying to hold its own.
Despite being a lesser-known name, Kruger’s skill set and role are not that different than Nick Bonino and Martin Hanzal except that his offensive production is lighter. But that is important to note. Kruger peaked at a modest 28 points in 81 games in 2013-14. He has mustered only 17 scoring points in 70 games in 2016-17 which is actually higher than what he averaged over the previous two seasons.
In short, I view Kruger as being a very good fourth line center who is not in over his head defensively on a higher line, but I do not view him as help in the scoring department especially if he displaces a young player with higher-end offensive ability.
Marcus Kruger’s deal and contract
The trade is a good one. Francis gave up only a fifth-round pick to net a proven and good NHL player even if he does have limitations. Financially Kruger works well too. His salary cap hit looks very high for his role (which is why Chicago had to let him go to Las Vegas) at $3.1 million, but with Chicago already paying the hefty $2 million signing bonus part of his 2017-18 contract, the out of pocket reality for Kruger is much different. The Hurricanes are scheduled to pay him $1.44 million in 2017-18 and $2.3 million for 2018-19 for a two-year average of about $1.9 million. That puts him slightly above the Viktor Stalberg’s 2016-17 salary and potentially with a similar effect as a depth player but a very good depth player.
If you put Hurricanes needs and where Kruger fits to the side and just look at the transaction and contract, both are very good. Giving up a fifth-round player for a good NHL player is always a deal except sometimes when it comes with taking a good player on a bad contract. I would call Kruger’s $1.9 million fair, maybe a small premium if you consider him a fourth-liner and also maybe a fair premium even considering he is much better than the run of the mill fourth-liner.
Where does Marcus Kruger fit?
The volume of potential centers grows: With the Hurricanes only two deep at center in the top 9 before Kruger, the big question continues to be who the third top 9 center is. The team is not short on options. Kruger was a third-line center in Chicago. Peters said earlier in the summer that he thought that Elias Lindholm and/or Sebastian Aho both project as possible centers down the road, but he also pretty definitely said that he saw both as wings in 2017-18. Derek Ryan is re-signed and is another center. And the chameleon, Teuvo Teravainen is another possibility.
Other clues as to where Kruger fits: I wrote about this in a bit more detail in today’s Daily Cup of Joe, but the short version is that signing Josh Jooris on Saturday hinted that Peters wanted to build a sound and stable fourth line with some veteran presence versus largely making it a tryout for the young players. This lines up with Peters comments at the end of the season about not just wanting to call up a bunch of AHL players. It also lines up with my comment on Twitter yesterday that Peters has been trying for three years to build an old school, safe and sound, checking fourth line. With Jay McClement out and Marcus Kruger in, he might have finally done so.
Why I don’t think Chicago’s model with Kruger works in Raleigh: Worth noting is that Kruger centered the third line in Chicago and was capable doing so. I do not at all like the idea of Kruger stepping into a C3 slot with the Hurricanes (moving up because of injuries is a different necessity sometimes). The key difference is that Chicago had enough high-end fire power offensively that they could build a lineup that top-loaded two lines and a top power play unit with scoring capability and only looked for the third line to hold its own, not so much score. The Hurricanes do not have that top-end scoring and need more balance throughout the lineup. I do not view a 20ish-point Kruger with limited playmaking ability as capable of netting enough production from a third line.
Where I hope Kruger lands: My hope and to some degree expectation is that Francis/Peters see Kruger as a fourth-line upgrade, needed penalty kill help and capable depth to move up in the event of an injury. If he pushes up into the top 9, I feel like he is likely 10-15 points light on scoring and maybe more significantly is not the kind of player that will help boost his wings to the high end of their scoring ranges.
Netting it out
I like the deal as an incremental upgrade especially considering the cost. I like Kruger in the C4 slot and as depth. I do not like Kruger in a C3 slot, and I am mixed on the direction that Jooris and Kruger indicate in terms of stocking a fourth line maybe entirely with scoring-lite checking line players.
What say you Canes fans?
How do you feel about the deal itself (putting where Kruger fits to the side for a minute)?
What do you think about Marcus Kruger as an addition?
What are your thoughts on where he slots and what Francis/Peters plan is? Do you see it as I do? Or differently?
Making me obsolete one comment at a time
If you haven’t already, you need to put The Coffee Shop comments high on your priority list of Hurricanes reading. Rob S. had Kruger yesterday in the Monday Coffee Shop (BEFORE the rumor broke) and the regular Monday and Thursday articles have become a great source of different but equally intelligent thoughts on Carolina Hurricanes hockey.