CHICAGO -- Marcus Kruger
got cut on the last day of training camp for the Chicago Blackhawks
and started the year in Rockford of the American Hockey League.
Now, the 21-year old Swedish rookie is being asked to play the middle on the Hawks' second line Friday night against the visiting New York Islanders
-- between star forwards Patrick Sharp
and Marian Hossa
That's how quickly the 6-foot, 181-pound Kruger has shot up the organizational depth chart after making his debut late last season because of injuries to Sharp and center Dave Bolland
"That was hard to get sent down, but I just tried to work hard and I got a chance to get back here," Kruger said after Friday's morning skate. "I wanted to prove that I could play here, so that's where my mindset was -- to work hard and get back right away."
The fact he did it so quickly is a testament to his mental fortitude, but also to adapting his style of play to the NHL rinks, which are smaller than in the Swedish Elite League, where Kruger played last season prior to his arrival in Chicago.
"I try to be in front of the net," he said. "More stuff happens around the net (in the NHL), so if you're there on every shift you're probably going to score more goals."
Kruger has scored just 2 goals to go with 5 assists in 24 games, but he's creating more scoring chances with his speed and skill -- which is probably a big reason he's getting this look on the second line that had previously been centered by star forward Patrick Kane
On Thursday, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville
moved Kane back to his more familiar role of right wing on the top line with Jonathan Toews
and Viktor Stalberg
, which meant a golden opportunity for somebody else. Kruger was the guy, and he's understandably excited to play with Sharp and Hossa.
"Those are two great players, but I just need to play my game," he said. "Every game you get a chance, no matter what -- whether you're playing fourth line for five minutes or you're playing on the second line. I can't change what I'm doing just because I know those are good guys I have around me. I just need to play my game."
And if that doesn't work, Sharp said to make sure he finds No. 10 with the puck.
"That goes without question," Sharp said, laughing. "If he has a choice between Hossa and Sharp, he'd better go to the backhand and find Sharp."