Everybody has heard of Torey Krug.
The rookie defenceman with the Boston Bruins has more points than any other first-year rearguard in the majors. Two points on Saturday pushed him up to 27 on the season and kept him in range of the forwards for the rookie scoring race.
He’s very much in the discussion for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
As an undrafted skater who stands just 5’9”, he is also compelling as an underdog who made good. Krug is one of only three regular defencemen shorter than 5’10” in the NHL (Jared Spurgeon in Minnesota and Francis Bouillon in Montreal are the others).
But as good a story as Krug’s rookie season is, it never would have come about on many other NHL teams.
We may as well start with Krug’s size. The NHL is famously obsessed with size, sometimes to the point that it is comical. Not a lot of coaches would take a chance on a 5’9” defenceman; for a team to feel comfortable with that kind of player, it generally needs lots of size elsewhere on the blue line.
Is Boston such a team?
Yes, it is. The average regular non-Krug defenceman on the blue line stands 6’4” and weighs 218 pounds. The Bruins are ideally suited to give a guy like him a chance.
Size is not the only deficiency that the Boston blue line can compensate for. Like a lot of young defencemen, Krug is prone to making mistakes in his own end. A good team can compensate for those mistakes by carefully managing the situations that he sees and by giving him a competent partner; a bad team rarely has the ability to do that.
Have the Bruins sheltered Krug?
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Have they ever. He faces the lowest-ranked competition, starts two-thirds of his non-neutral zone shifts in the opponent’s end on a team where three guys are below 50/50 in that metric, plays third-pair even-strength minutes and gets less penalty-killing time than any other player on the team. It’s possible that no regular NHL rearguard consistently plays easier minutes than Krug has this season.
All of this sounds awfully critical of him, but there is another side to this equation. The Bruins are not going to the trouble of oh-so-carefully handling Krug as a favour to the player. The team is doing it because he brings specific skills to the blue line, and Boston needs those skills.
Last season, the Bruins’ power play ranked 26th in the NHL with a 14.8 percent efficiency rate, which was the worst total of any playoff team. This year, the team has a top-10 power play, clicking at better than 20 percent.
Krug has been a big part of the revival.
He scores a point every 10 minutes in five-on-four situations; that total is 33 percent better than the best total of any player on the Bruins' power play last year, including the forwards. With Krug on the ice, Boston averages 56.4 shots per hour five-on-four (sixth in the NHL); with him off the ice, that number falls to 46.3 (25th in the league).
Obviously, it is not all him. He plays on the top unit, which is disproportionately loaded with skill players—but he has been a big part of a revitalized power-play group.
Krug and the Bruins are perfect complements. Boston needed offensive help, a scoring wizard who could drive power-play results; Krug has scoring talents that the rest of the blue line lacks. He needed a team with the size and defensive strengths to compensate for the holes in his game; the Bruins do that better than almost any other club.
It is fair to wonder how Krug would be faring on another team and if Boston’s power play would be anywhere near as effective without him.