BOSTON (CBS) – When you have a 22-year-old defenseman scoring goals at a pace that could see him finish the season with more than 30 over the course of a full season, you have to know how to harness his talents.
In the case of Torey Krug and the Bruins’ coaching staff, that doesn’t mean berating him for every mistake. And it especially doesn’t mean pinning him to the bench or making room in the doghouse for the 5-foot-9, 180-pound blueliner.
Krug knows that the Bruins are going to give him the freedom to do the things that make him an offensive weapon, and they’re going to nurture his defensive game like a fragile flower among the weeds.
The recipe is working, as Krug scored his sixth goal in 15 games in the Bruins’ 4-1 win against Florida on Thursday night at TD Garden. He’s actually bettered his goal-scoring pace from the playoffs, when he scored four goals in 15 games during the Bruins’ drive for the Stanley Cup finals.
“You know, I’m not freaking out when I go to the bench because I know they’re not going to be hollering at me,” Krug told CBS Boston after the game. “They’re going to be there. They’re trying to develop me into a well-rounded player. So I’m coming off the ice and they’re not screaming at me. So that’s good. It’s more of a conversation, ‘hey, this is what you did wrong; this is what you should do next time.’ And I ask a lot of questions. I don’t know if I ask too many questions. That’s up to them I guess.”
Krug has had plenty of experience with verbal assaults. They are typically more of a hindrance than a help in improving his play.
“Oh yeah, and I’ve been on those teams,” said Krug, who’s now tied for the NHL lead in goals by defensemen, and also has three assists. “I grew up playing for dad and he was harder on me than he was other players. I’d make mistakes and he’s yelling and I’m sitting. But it’s nice to have it, especially at this level. You learn a lot more as opposed to getting yelled at and then all of a sudden you turn your mind off because you’re sick of getting yelled at. Now it’s great, we’re having great conversations, we’re learning, and that’s not just me that’s everybody.”
In Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski the Bruins have three defensemen they’re trying to groom to be pillars of the franchise for the rest of this decade. Bruins coach Claude Julien has repeated numerous times that the team is willing to live with mistakes, as long as they’re frequency is reduced as the season moves along.
Krug’s a bit lucky in that playing with Adam McQuaid, he doesn’t have to face top lines as often as Hamilton. So Krug’s mistakes don’t end up in the Bruins’ net as often. And Krug’s power-play prowess has earned him a spot in the lineup for all 15 games, whereas Hamilton and Bartkowski have both sat out, including Bartkowski being scratched for all but four games. He’s also the defenseman with the lowest defensive-zone start percentage on the team.
“Well we’ve got a good offensive player. With every strength there comes a little bit of a weakness,” Julien said. “I’m not going to say it’s a weakness, but with his size, the defensive part of his game, the battle is always going to be a challenge. But it’s a challenge you can overcome. And the only way you can overcome that stuff is with some experience. He’ll get smarter and smarter and figure out how to win those battles along the boards and not always have to use his strength versus his smarts and everything else. So there’s no doubt he’s been better offensively than defensively for us, but he’s still been a good player; he’s given us exactly what we want. And right now we just continue to work on helping him out with the other part of the game that is a bigger challenge for him than the offensive part.”
Krug was one of the nation-wide revelations in the postseason last spring and summer. He came to camp in Boston for this season with the mindset of earning a job. He’s staying grounded during his hot start, as well. A silly reporter (me) broached the subject of Team USA and Sochi, Russia, and Krug just laughed and pointed out he doesn’t even have a full-time job on the Bruins.
Although his humbleness is honorable, his theory is faulty. Barring a major collapse of his play at the defensive end, Krug is in the Bruins’ lineup to stay. The Bruins have been sticking to their plan for the rookie, and he’s making them look brilliant.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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