Prior to the 2013 postseason, Krug had just three NHL games to his name. That, in itself, is a testament to how quickly things can change.
Everyone remembers the impression Krug made during Boston’s second-round series against New York a year ago. He was getting on a bus to Wilkes-Barre to play in a playoff game with the Providence Bruins when his phone rang. It was Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney, and immediately, Krug knew what that meant. He was going to Boston.
At the time, he probably didn’t anticipate that he would be going to Boston for good.
“It does feel like that, like I’ve been here for a while,” Krug said afterf the book was closed on 2013-14 and he had his first full NHL season under his belt. “There’s so many things that have happened, and the roller coaster that it was — I don’t know, there’s just so many lessons to be learned. And to sit next to a guy like [Zdeno Chara] in the locker room, to dress up with guys like [Patrice Bergeron], and just their presence and how well prepared they are — I think preparation was the biggest lesson that I learned this year for sure.”
During the 2013 postseason, Krug developed a cult following when he scored four goals and registered five points in those five games against the Rangers. It was pretty good for someone who had just three games of NHL experience entering that series.
Still, as 2013 training camp approached, it wasn’t a sure thing that Krug would be a staple of Boston’s roster. As part of a team with a wealth of young talent on the back end, he had to earn his spot, and to start the 2013-14 season, he had to platoon with Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowksi, never knowing when he would be in the lineup or when he would be watching the action from press level.
Toward the middle of the season, injuries to veterans forced Krug and his fellow young defensemen into the limelight — and from December on, Krug never looked back.
Krug finished the 2013-14 regular season a plus-18 with 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points in 79 games. He averaged 17 1/2 minutes of ice time, up from 15:47 the year prior, and he earned an increased role due in large part to his contributions on the power play, where he established himself as a threat at the point on Boston’s first unit. He registered six goals and 13 assists on the man advantage during the regular season, helping the B’s establish the third-most proficient power play in the league.
And most importantly, when the calendar struck April 18 and the postseason had arrived, Krug didn’t miss a single beat.
“I saw this quote the other day — ‘It’s a game for young men’ — and I don’t necessarily agree with that in total, but the young legs, the energy [helps],” said Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli. “[The young defensemen] bring speed coming up through the defensive zone, the neutral zone, and [it] helps our speed game. The youthful energy, the youthful enthusiasm, the youthful naiveté sometimes in practice — that lightens the mood.
“All that stuff, it really energizes your team, and of course, they’re good players. So you’ve got good players playing that can skate all day.”
Boston’s youth blossomed during the playoffs, and Krug was at the forefront of it all. He led the team in postseason scoring with two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 12 games, often coming up with the most crucial goals at the most pivotal moments.
Take Game 4 of Boston’s first-round series against Detroit. The Bruins were down 2-0 at Joe Louis Arena before Krug’s power-play tally put them on the board midway through the second period, setting the stage for a thrilling comeback that would give Boston a 3-1 edge in the series.
Or take Game 5 of Boston’s second-round series against the Canadiens. With less than two minutes elapsed in the second period, the Bruins were on the power play, and Krug engaged in a battle along the boards in the offensive zone and sent a highlight-reel backhand pass to a wide-open Jarome Iginla, who was waiting at the left post to chip the puck past Carey Price. That goal gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead in the game and helped them earn a stranglehold on the momentum.
That series didn’t end the way the Bruins expected or preferred, but it was the impact of young players like Krug who made it into a battle.
“We had four guys on the back end that had played a full year in the lineup, and when you really look at what they have accomplished, from coming into the lineup and towards the end of the season, it’s amazing,” said Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara. “They can be really proud of their game, and they really stepped up. We couldn’t ask more from guys like Torey and Dougie and Kevan [Miller], and obviously Bart — they played outstanding.”
Added Krug, “I think no one had plans for this to happen this early. You got to look forward to summer now and try to figure everything out because everyone thought wed be playing till June because we have such high expectations. It’s very surprising that it’s over, but now we got to get ready for next year.”
Going forward, the experience Krug gained against the Canadiens — though painful at times — is precisely what will make him a stronger player moving forward into 2014-15.
“It is important to infuse some younger players,” said Bruins President Cam Neely. “You look at what happened with our back end this year — we had some young D that developed over the course of the year, and as much as we’re disappointed with the playoffs, they’re going to learn a great deal from what they went through in the playoffs and they are going to grow from that. That’s what happens as a player. We talk about when you see a rookie come in at the end of winning the Stanley Cup -- they think, ‘Oh my God, this is easy and we’re going to do it again and again and again.’ And they may not see a Finals for 10, 15 years. So as long as the players understand... and I think they do.
"We really pride ourselves on trying to make sure we have players who have good character, and that is important to build championship teams. And I think the young players that we have brought in or will eventually, down the line, bring in — not only do we want them to build character, but they are going to learn and grow from winning and losing. And that is what we will see probably with our younger players from this season, is the learning experience that they are going to get from losing.”
Part of what makes the Bruins such a dangerous team is that they have a strong core of players with lots of experience — lots of which was earned en route to a Stanley Cup in 2011. Those players have been to the mountaintop and they know what it takes to win.
But the other part of what makes the Bruins a dangerous team is that they have an infusion of youth, particularly on the back end, that will continue to grow and continue make them strong for years to come.
“I think next year, you will probably harvest a lot from the new defensive players that you brought in this year,” said Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about this, or the organization has. The organization is moving them in a way to maintain the great players that we have today along with bringing in the next generation.”