Commentary

Bruins rookie Krug not playing scared

Updated: November 21, 2013, 4:18 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's all just a little incongruous.

Torey Krug, after all, is in so many ways just a kid. A 22-year-old who has 23 NHL regular-season games under his belt.

He still talks to his dad, who coached him growing up, after every game.

And yet there are elements to Krug that make him seem impossibly mature.

He married his college sweetheart in a backyard service at his in-laws' home this past summer. He made the Bruins team out of camp this fall, his first-ever NHL training camp after signing with the team as a free agent after he completed his third year at Michigan State in the spring of 2012. And, of course, there is his play on the ice: smooth, fearless, confident, something that belies his youthfulness and relative inexperience.

Given his play in the playoffs last spring, when he stepped into an injury-depleted Bruins lineup and helped them reach the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals, it's hard to think of Krug as anything but a savvy NHLer. And yet as the league moves into the second quarter of the season, Krug has six goals and 12 points -- more than any other Boston defenseman, including captain and former Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara. Krug is third overall in rookie scoring, first among first-year defensemen, and is very much in the early Calder Trophy discussion for rookie of the year.

"It wasn't easy for Torey to come up, especially in a situation like last year with having some injuries and players being out of the lineup and handling the minutes and the situation that he did. He did extremely well," Chara told ESPN.com this week.

"Obviously, if we didn't have him and [Matt] Bartkowski in the lineup against the Rangers, I don't think we'd be able to do as well as we did. It was a huge help to us. I think it did carry over. He's playing with more confidence this season. He's done, actually, extremely well. He's got to continue to play his game and just keep working on things he needs to work on.

"It's not always just playing the same way. You've got to be able to adjust against different systems or teams or even situations as far as the time of the games, but he will do that, it's just the process of learning," the captain noted.

Funny how moments unfold that separate reality from "what if."

[+] EnlargeTorey Krug's presence on the power play has already made a difference for the Bruins.
Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty Images"Hes a great player, not only on the power play, but 5-on-5 hes doing a great job," said teammate David Krejci.

If the Bruins don't mount their stunning comeback against Toronto in Game 7 of the first round last spring, Krug doesn't get that call to join the B's in the second round of the playoffs.

"If they don't do that, I'm not sure I'm coming into camp and making the team this year," Krug acknowledged in an interview this week.

He was, in fact, ready to board the Providence Bruins team bus and head to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., for Game 3 of their American Hockey League playoff series against Pittsburgh's top farm team when he was summoned to Boston.

"I had to fish out my gear out from under the bus," Krug recalled in an interview at the team's hotel in Raleigh, N.C., this week.

Draw the line even further and what if Krug's father, Kyle, an engineer by trade, hadn't signed up his son for the final USA Hockey festival for teens even though Krug hadn't been selected at earlier events and believed that he was destined to play high school hockey in Michigan?

From that festival, Krug was given a chance by then head coach Jeff Blashill to make the Indiana Ice of the USHL. From that, he earned a spot with the Spartans at Michigan State, where he served as captain in his third and final year. He was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. collegiate player and ended up tied for the conference lead in points (the first time a defenseman had earned a scoring title in the CCHA since the late 1980s).

Early on, Krug would watch his two older brothers play hockey, studying the game while his peers would be running around the local arena playing tag. His father coached him for much of his youth hockey career and even now the two talk after games. Although it's hard to take the coach out of the father, at this stage he is learning as much from his pro hockey son as his son continues to learn from him.

"It's changed a little bit now that I have a wife," Krug said of the postgame calls. "When I talk to him he's a coach. Sometimes he gets carried away."

Sometimes players' personalities and their games are at complete odds with each other. Take the fighter who is a softie away from the ice. Not Krug. There is a quiet confidence about him just as there is on the ice. He looks around the Bruins locker room and sees a team that has accomplished a lot in the past three years, winning a Cup in 2011 and the advancing to the finals last season.

"You feel like you have a long way to go to get to where they are," he said.

But he also knows he belongs, and his play reflects that knowledge.

"At the same time, my confidence level is not that of a rookie," Krug said.

Coming into camp, for instance, he could have trotted out the old chestnut about taking nothing for granted vis a vis making the big club. And not to suggest he did take his place on the roster for granted, but Krug acknowledged the expectation was he was going to be with the team when the season opened. And he was.

"I think I pretty much expected to make the team," he said. "And I would be surprised if management and the coaching staff didn't expect me to make the team."

Hard to argue that logic.

If there were moments of wondering that what happened in the playoffs when he scored four times and collected six points in 15 games might have been a mirage, a fluke, they dissipated quickly.

"I didn't wonder," Krug said. "I can't because, if I did, I would be losing a part of my game that's so important."

Similarly, he does not track his progress against other top rookies because he feels it would detract from the drive that carries him forward.

"The ability to not be complacent is a big part of my game," he said.

[+] EnlargeTorey Krug
AP Photo/Charles KrupaTorey Krug had four goals and two assists in 15 postseason games last season.

Long-time NHL defenseman Aaron Ward met Krug and his family after Ward was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings and was looking for ice time in the Detroit area. Krug was little more than a toddler.

"He was little, I mean little," Ward told ESPN.com this week.

Although Krug's size has often been seen as an impediment to his advancement -- he was not drafted but instead signed as a free agent out of college -- Ward has been impressed with how the young defenseman managed not to let his shortcomings detract from his effectiveness.

He jumps into the play with regularity, "but he does not get himself caught," Ward noted.

"I don't know if he's selective or lucky," he said. "He's got the skill set of a forward."

Of course it doesn't hurt that Krug and the Bruins seem to be a perfect match.

This is a Bruins team loaded with tough, physical players who won't allow a player like Krug to be taken advantage of physically, said Ward, who played parts of three seasons with the Bruins.

"I think it's a perfect fit for him," Ward said.

You won't get much argument from Boston GM Peter Chiarelli, who vigorously pursued Krug out of college when the defenseman was being courted by many teams.

"He brings a dimension that our back end needed," Chiarelli said.

That Krug arrived in the playoffs and jumped seamlessly into high-tempo games playing at a high level was a bonus for a Bruins team dealing with injuries and suspensions along the blue line at the time.

"He's a young player who last year helped us when we needed help," Chiarelli said. "He's a very smart player. He scores timely goals. He steps up at the right time."

Not that this is a player without his flaws.

Krug is just one quarter of the way through his first NHL season and it can be a grind, especially for young defensemen. There have been times recently when Krug looked like a 22-year-old rookie. There have been turnovers, mistakes that led to goals.

Hey, that's life in the NHL regardless of how old you are, how many years you've played.

For Chiarelli, it's Krug's ability to move on from those mistakes, not let them effect the next shift, the next game, that is important.

"He shakes those off," the GM said. "He's getting better at defending. Let's not forget he's still finding his way in the league."

If there is one lesson Krug said he's learned at this early juncture, it's that simplicity is best. The harder you try to make the game, the more difficult it becomes, he said, and the more trouble you can get yourself into.

Now, instead of trying to make the perfect play every time, trying to hit the home run, Krug is learning to simplify, to take what is given.

"I've got to find that middle ground," he said. "Right now, I'm going for singles."

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