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Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Bowman confident in his young centers

By Jesse Rogers

Ben Smith
Stan Bowman pointed to Ben Smith's effectiveness last season as a reason for his confidence in his centers.
Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman continued to defend his offseason decisions Wednesday, re-iterating his position the team is not thin at the center position.

"I don't look at it that way, that we are thinner," Bowman said at the opening of Blackhawks/Stanley's Kitchen & Tap restaurant at O'Hare Airport. "Ben Smith played really well in the playoffs. He played a lot of center in Rockford. And [Marcus] Kruger. Both those guys were probably two of our more effective forwards in the playoffs.

"They're young, but there is something to be said for that. Kruger was one of the top 2 centers for Sweden in the World Championships. I think he's ready for the next step."

Kruger continues to come up as a key component for the Hawks moving forward. He played 12 games combined between the regular season and the playoffs after a surprise decision to bring him over from Europe late in the year. He had one assist and showed good instincts but didn't have the puck enough.

"It's kind of like Nick Leddy," Bowman stated. "You can be as confident as you want, but you're playing in the best league in a pressure situation.

"He had no training camp with us. Kruger was dropped in here in a tough situation and he responded pretty well. He's been working out. He‘ll be stronger and have a full camp. He's got an edge to him too. He's feisty."

It's believed Joel Quenneville wanted Kruger to start last year with the Hawks and would have made him their third line center. Expect that to be his role when this season starts, which means Patrick Sharp doesn't have to start the year in the middle.

Though the Hawks say they're happy with what they have, it doesn't mean they didn't try to get better.

"We talked to a number of people," Bowman explained. "It's hard to find centers, and they get tons of money.

"We wouldn't have done some of the other things I thought we needed to do if we went out and spent $3.5 million on a center. I mean, I agree center is a very important position. It is the strength of our prospects right now. It's in the middle. We have [Kevin] Hayes, [Mak] McNeill, Phillip Danault. If we are talking a year or two from now we are going to be trying to be moving guys to the wing as opposed to looking for centers."

As for Ryan Johnson or John Madden or another center, there's simply no room right now, according to Bowman.

"We have 14 forwards right now who are in the mix for our team," he said. "We don't want to block out too many guys. That's why I signed all these guys to one-year contracts.

"Now we might re-sign most or all of them, or we might say these guys that we like are developing. On July 1 a lot of these free agents are looking for multi-year deals. If I signed a couple of centers to three-year deals then we would have to jettison some of these guys because we believe in our system here of developing players. We'll see how it plays out, but that's why we want to leave enough room in the budget."

Bowman made the decision to sign his crop of free agents instead of overspending on a center. Time will tell if that was the right call.