Torey Krug is no fluke.
Though much of the hockey world is just now buzzing about the 22-year-old's breakout playoff performance with the Boston Bruins, nobody who has had an eye on the American Hockey League this season should be surprised.
Krug racked up 13 goals and 32 assists in 63 games for Boston's top affiliate, the Providence Bruins, good for fourth among all AHL defensemen.
Then in the Calder Cup Playoffs, Krug contributed three assists in seven games – helping Providence defeat the Hershey Bears in the first round and take a 2-0 series lead over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the second round – before being called up to Boston.
racked up 13 goals and 32 assists in 63 games for Boston's top affiliate, the Providence Bruins, good for fourth among all AHL defensemen. (Photo: Alan Sullivan)
"That was extremely important," Krug said of his Calder Cup Playoff experience. "I don't think I'd be having the success that I am right now unless I played in those series. It's definitely relatable to [the playoffs] up here [in the NHL]. I'm very lucky that I got to play in that."
The undrafted and undersized defenseman is gaining fans not only in the seats of the TD Garden, but also on the Bruins bench.
"It's unbelievable, the poise he has with the puck. It's nice to see a guy like Torey play so well," said former Calder Cup champion Dennis Seidenberg. "I don't know if it's out of nowhere. There's got to be a reason [the Bruins] wanted him so badly. I think they knew what they had ... That's why they called him up and that's why they played him. Because they knew he was something special and he has shown it every game so far."
The Bruins' brass definitely knew what they had in Krug, signing him to an entry-level contract last March. In his first season of pro hockey, he developed into a player that could be called on to step in when Boston needed him most – the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Torey, the last half of the year in Providence, was maybe the best player in the league," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. "He was terrific. It was good to see that it's helping us earlier than expected. It's good to know that the depth is there.”
That depth is a testament to the Bruins' tradition of producing NHL-ready prospects in Providence: David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask all wore the "spoked P" before graduating to Boston. Currently, 22 players on the Bruins' active roster are AHL alumni, including 10 who came through Providence and seven former AHL All-Stars.
Like Krug, defensemen Matt Bartkowski was also a playoff call-up to Boston after spending most of the season playing for head coach Bruce Cassidy and assistant Kevin Dean in Providence.
"They helped me out so much," said Bartkowski, who has logged 175 regular-season games with the P-Bruins in his three pro seasons. "I don't know, if they weren't there, if I'd be at the stage of my game that I am now. I'm sure I wouldn't.
"Without playing on that team, with those two coaches, I just don't think I'd be where I am right now."
Bartkowski's gratitude is echoed by Chiarelli, the team architect.
"I'd need a couple hours to give credit to everybody," he said. "It's part of a successful organization. To put together the depth that we like and we're able to use, and to manage it at all levels, is a hard job and it's a testament to those that I work with."
As Chiarelli and his Bruins gear up for a hard-fought Eastern Conference Finals series against the formidable Pittsburgh Penguins, it can be easy to forget how far they've come. But for Krug, there's no risk of that.
"I think playing in the AHL has played a tremendous role getting me where I'm at right now," he said. "The games are at top speed, the guys are fighting for positions and they want to make it to the NHL. It's some of the best players below the NHL in the world, and you want to compete for your job.
"It's just a great experience."