The Chicago Blackhawks have a hole in the middle of their second line. That's far from breaking news. Coach Joel Quenneville has tried to plug the hole with several players. It's time to give Marcus Kruger his turn.
The carousel that is the position of second-line center has been occupied at times over the last few seasons by Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland, Michal Handzus, Brandon Pirri and Kruger, among others. No one seems to be able to stick.
Bolland got an extended shot last season and is now in Toronto. Handzus caught a bit of lightning in a bottle and stepped up in last season's playoffs. The Kane experiment ended after the 2011-12 season.
Pirri doesn't seem to merit a lengthy stay in the top six in Quenneville's eyes. Sharp, who could potentially fill the role, doesn't seem to want it.
Quenneville sent out recent acquisition Peter Regin between Kane and Kris Versteeg for Chicago's game in New York Thursday night. Regin scored a late goal in the 'Hawks 2-1 loss to the Rangers but wasn't on the second line by the latter part of the contest.
Barring a miracle trade that brings in a top-six pivot, the Blackhawks are going to have to fill the second-line center position in-house. While I still believe inserting Pirri there in the last two months is the most logical course of action, the fact that Pirri is lighting up the AHL and not on Chicago's roster pretty much says it all for his chances.
Regin and Handzus weren't top-six centers in their primes. Andrew Shaw certainly isn't one now. Quenneville should break open his fourth-line piggy bank and promote Kruger.
Yes, that breaks up what has been an effective bottom trio of Kruger, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig. However, it is hard to think that that line could not flourish with a veteran like Handzus or Regin centering it.
Kruger has improved his faceoff effectiveness this season and can keep up with Kane up and down the ice. His passing should be enough to make the combination work.
The young Swede performed well for his home country in the Olympic tournament. Perhaps that momentum could carry over for Kruger as the regular season winds down.
Quenneville has the final say as to who appears in the middle of his second unit. However, it is time to see how Kruger would function in that role.
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