Torey Krug’s professional hockey career up until now has been anything but typical. The 5-foot-9 defenseman out of Michigan State went undrafted, only to be signed by the Bruins in March 2012.
After spending all of the following season in Providence, Krug made his way into the Bruins’ NHL lineup on an emergency injury re-call basis during the playoffs, bursting onto the scene by scoring four goals in 15 games.
And that performance was enough to make Krug a regular on the blue line this past year, as he appeared in 79 games—the most among any of the Bruins defenseman—and obliged by scoring 14 goals, and tying a team-high for defensemen with 40 points.
The best part? Krug is only 23, and his accelerated development bodes well as he looks to become a staple on the Bruins’ blue line.
With the likes of Krug, Dougie Hamilton, and a host of other young, talented defensemen, it’s easy to pigeonhole these burgeoning blue liners into future roles atop Boston’s depth chart. That’s probably putting the horse before the carriage, though.
It’s very clear where Krug excels as a defenseman. He’s a stud offensive player, with great puck moving ability, and excellent foot speed, allowing him to join the rush in transition. This array of talents allows him to be a strong player in possession, as he posted an overall Corsi percentage of 55.4 last season, with a relative Corsi percentage of 2.1.
His deficiencies are just as apparent, as playing in his own zone was always going to be an uphill battle for the vertically-challenged prospect. Krug’s 23.8 percent of defensive zone starts were the lowest among the Bruins’ six most-used defensemen. Of the Bruins’ regular skaters, only Shawn Thornton started less frequently in the defensive zone, which should be incredibly telling of where Krug’s defensive game was last season in the eyes of Boston’s coaches.
So entering his second full season of NHL duties, some may see this year as a crossroads of sorts for Krug. But while the Michigan native certainly has room to grow as far as his defensive game is concerned, why is there such an emphasis on turning Krug into a top-four defenseman?
Krug is quite good at filling the role he currently does. He’s a top power play quarterback, with below average defensive abilities. To say there’s not a need for that kind of player in the league is simply incorrect. Krug averaged a little over 17 minutes per game last season, 14 percent of which came on the power play. He was one of the Bruins’ most effective special teams players. Turning him into something else could potentially mean sacrificing Krug’s strongest attributes.
It was just five years ago Alex Ovechkin was coming off his third consecutive 50-plus goal season, and his fifth consecutive year of scoring at least 46 times. The Capitals’ brass asked Ovechkin to become more defensively accountable that offseason, which was followed by two seasons of scoring 32 and 38 goals.
There’s a happy medium to be found: Just as Ovechkin could have improved in other aspects of his game, so can Krug. But to reinvent a player who clearly fills a niche so well, it’s trying to fill a round hole with a square peg.
What’s more is, there’s nothing wrong if Krug “only amounts to being a third pairing defenseman.” Until they change the rules of hockey, teams will still deploy six d-men. If the Bruins learned anything from last season, it’s that every inch of a roster counts, including the bottom parts. Boston was burned by its lack of a fourth line, and while some may be clamoring for Krug to step into an expanded role, in reality he’s a very good fit for where he stands right now.
There will be a time in the near future when the Bruins’ defensemen of old will need to pass the torch to a new generation. Zdeno Chara is 37. Dennis Seidenberg is 33, and coming off an ACL tear. The players who have eaten up the majority of Boston’s blue line minutes recently are aging. But there’s no point in trying to thrust Krug into an increased capacity simply out of necessity. If he becomes that player, it’s to his own credit, but he’s fine exactly where he is right now.