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Kruger tops Hawks' prospect list

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks

According to Hockey Prospectus, center Marcus Kruger is the best among a top-tier collection of Blackhawks prospects. The 21-year-old Swedish pivot was named the Hawks' top prospect according to the publication, which also named Chicago's system the fifth-deepest in the NHL behind only Detroit, the New York Islanders, Nashville and Ottawa in the first edition of their 2011 rankings.

"The Blackhawks had an elite level of depth prior to the 2011 draft, and then they went on and had one of the best hauls of any team," writes Hockey Prospectus' Corey Pronman. "The Hawks are one year removed from a Cup and looked like one of the better teams in the NHL last season, and unfortunately for the Central Division they aren't going to be done for a long time. Through a couple of trades and shrewd draft picks, Chicago has managed to build one of the league's elite systems that has the chance to deliver several significant pieces to the big club over the next few years. "

Pronman also has high hopes for Kruger himself, saying that he projects "easily [to] be a good two-way top-six player," and adding:

"His hockey sense is a plus tool as Kruger thinks the game very well in both zones, displaying an offensively-gifted playmaker style of game, on top of showing advanced defensive abilities. He has above-average puck skills and combining that with his vision and anticipation allows him to be an effective playmaker who can make people miss and set up his teammates. Kruger shows an exemplary work ethic defensively on top of his defensive zone awareness and he comes back hard regularly to support his defensemen."

In seven regular-season games with Chicago last season, Kruger was held scoreless in limited ice time, but tallied one assist in the Stanley Cup Quarterfinal series against Vancouver. He scored 35 points (6G, 29A) in 53 games with the Swedish Elite League's Djurgarden in 2010-11 before coming to North America.

Behind Kruger, two members of the Hawks' 2011 draft class -- center Mark McNeill and winger Brandon Saad -- also made the list, as did six currrent members of the Rockford IceHogs in Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Kyle Beach, Shawn Lalonde, Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen.

Not included in the ranking were players including defenseman Nick Leddy and forward Ben Smith, who were not in consideration because of their time played in the NHL. Just missing the cut were former first-round picks Philippe Paradis and Phillip Danault, part of the system that the publication says boasts "one of the better collections of forward prospects in the league."

Below is Hockey Prospectus' complete top-10 ranking:
1. C Marcus Kruger
2. LW Jeremy Morin
3. C Mark McNeill
4. C Brandon Pirri
5. LW Kyle Beach
6. D Shawn Lalonde
7. RW Jimmy Hayes
8. D Dylan Olsen
9. LW Brandon Saad
10. LW Kevin Hayes

To read the entire article, and to see Hockey Prospectus' complete organizational rankings, click here.
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