BOSTON (CBS) – It wasn’t surprising that when the Bruins searched for a defenseman to play up front for a couple periods during their shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday they chose Torey Krug.
Throughout this season the Bruins’ coaches have shown that they trust the 22-year-old Krug to handle any task they throw at him and they have faith in his smarts and ability to adapt. It’s those smarts that coach Claude Julien credits for Krug’s steady improvement as a defender in the diminutive defenseman’s first full NHL season. At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds there aren’t too many players Krug is going to overpower. He often has to use savvy to win battles, and he’s gotten better at that throughout the season.
It’s difficult to find anything Krug hasn’t improved upon in 2013-14. And he’s done it under the scrutiny that comes with being a breakout star in the postseason. Krug famously captivated the NHL and all of New England with four goals against the New York Rangers in the second round of last year’s playoffs. Although he didn’t score again, he earned his spot as a regular in Boston’s top six and on the power play for the rest of the run to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
This season, Krug had to prove that he would be more than a postseason folk hero, and he did. Krug played in every game until Julien started rotating his eight defensemen through the lineup in March. He heads into the final three games of the regular season with 14-24-38 totals and a plus-17 rating in 76 games. He leads all rookie defensemen in points and is fourth among all skaters with rookie status. And Krug’s constant presence at the point on the power-play unit that features David Krejci’s line along with Zdeno Chara as a forward has helped put Boston’s man-advantage into the top five in terms of efficiency.
Even the highly confident Krug wasn’t fully sure what to expect from himself coming off last year’s amazing playoff run.
“I think this year was probably a little bit more difficult. Last year I expected to contribute. I don’t know if other people did. So that kind of gives you a little bit of a boost confidence-wise,” Krug recently told CBS Boston. “You know you’re excited for the opportunity. And then coming into this year, I didn’t know what to expect. There was a training camp. I’d never been to an NHL training camp. There was always the question of how fast the touch was going to come back, the scoring touch. You know I knew it wasn’t going to be gone, but it was just a matter of how fast it would come back, so … I’d say this year was pretty tough coming into the season. But once you get in the groove though, it’s just a lot of fun.”
Many second-year defensemen don’t have a lot of fun. In fact, recent top rookie defensemen like Tyler Myers in Buffalo, Victor Hedman in Tampa Bay and Michael Del Zotto in New York (now with Nashville) have found that staying on track as a defenseman is much harder than having a big year. There’s still no telling what type of player any of the aforementioned blueliners will be three, four years from now, just like there’s no telling what Krug’s career will look like in that same time.
But through one full NHL season plus playoffs, Krug has proven he can be level-headed and learn. He doesn’t get discouraged even when his high-risk approach sometimes costs his team. He’s one of three young Bruins defensemen, along with Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski, which have been with the team from Day One in 2013-14, without a major benching or demotion to the Providence (AHL) farm club. Because of Krug’s high-risk style and his size disadvantage, he was probably the one of the three most prone to suffer a regression in his game once teams learned how to attack him. Instead, he’s become a mainstay.
Now it’s just about time for the playoffs, which were Krug’s coming out party last year. It’ll be another challenge to match or exceed his 2013 performance. But it’s a challenge he’s not going to shy away from.
“I think everyone in here wishes the playoffs would just start in October. It’s the best time of the year and we’re built for that,” he said. “So I’m really excited personally and it brings some memories back from last year, and then hopefully a better ending though.”
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