Marcus Kruger, C – Djurgarden, Elitserien
Drafted 2009, 5th round, 149th overall
Kruger has been one of the bright spots this season in the Blackhawks organization. While the talented pivot had 15 games in the Swedish Elite league during the 2008-09 season, few could have predicted Kruger’s explosion out of the gates this season. After 20 points in his first 18 games, he finished the season tied for second on Djurgarden with 31 points, including 11 goals and 20 assists. He has also added two assists in three playoff games. Not only are the numbers impressive for a 19-year-old forward, but those points were accumulated in just 38 regular-season games after missing time with a foot injury and joining Sweden at the World Junior Championships.
Kruger served as Sweden’s top-line center and registered six assists in six games, bringing home a bronze medal. He was also recognized for his Elite League performance as having the most points by a junior player, an achievement reached by Lars Eller (STL) and Nicklas Backstrom (WAS) in previous years, as well as a Rookie of the Year nomination, which he lost to goalie Jacob Markstrom (FLA).
Kruger is a playmaker with great vision and is dangerous with the puck on his stick. Overall, his game is well-rounded and he plays hard in all three zones, evidenced by his fifth-best plus/minus on Djurgarden at plus-16. His greatest assets are his hockey IQ and versatility, having skated both at center and on the wing throughout the season. At 5’11 172 lbs, he still needs to fill out and add strength in order to ease the transition to North America. Kruger is likely another year or two away from making the jump but the ‘Hawks may have found a gem.
Igor Makarov, RW – Dynamo Moscow, KHL
Drafted 2006, 2nd round, 33rd overall
A midseason trade saw Makarov moving from his first KHL team SKA St. Petersburg to his new squad Dynamo Moscow. The change of scenery did little to help the struggling Makarov, who scored just one goal and two assists in 25 games with Moscow. Along with his six points through the first 26 games of the year in St. Petersburg, the 22-year-old’s total of nine points is well below the pace set during his previous two seasons.
The winger plays a balanced game and is capable in all three zones. His swift skating and adept puck-handling make him a threat offensively while he can also get physical on the defensive side and along the boards.
After turning a lot of heads at the Chicago’s training camp in 2008, Makarov was already under KHL contract and did not attend training camp prior to this season. While the possibility remains open that the talented winger could get another crack at a roster spot, his sub-par performance in Russia this season and lack of interest in a two-way deal could close that door. Despite the promise two years ago, Makarov’s future in North America seems unlikely at this point.
Tony Lagerstrom, C – Mora, Allsvenskan
Drafted 2006, 3rd round, 76th overall
Lagerstrom spent another season with Mora in Sweden’s farm-level Allsvenskan league. The balanced pivot appeared all 52 of his team’s games and finished eighth on the team in points, including 12 goals and 15 assists. He has only appeared in two of his squad’s playoff games, but is still among the league leaders in playoff scoring with a goal and three assists.
The 21-year-old Lagerstrom had been a fixture of Sweden’s junior program throughout his career but has spent all of the last two seasons in the Allsvenskan. A solid two-way center, he is praised for his leadership and willingness to work hard in all three zones. He has yet to venture to North American ice and will likely continue working his way up the ladder in his home country.
Jakub Sindel, C – HC Kometa Brno, Extraliga
Drafted 2004, 2nd round, 54th overall
After splitting time between the Czech Extraliga and Finnish SM-liiga during the 2008-09 season, Sindel returned to the Czech Republic for his first season with HC Kometa Brno. The talented centerman registered 11 goals and nine assists in 44 games for the club.
Though Sindel was seen as a possible first-round pick heading into the 2004 draft, he slid to the end of the second round where Chicago found his offensive upside too great to pass up. A creative and skilled forward, the 24-year-old is already a veteran in the Extraliga, first suiting up for 34 matches during his draft year in 2003-04.
Apart from a 35-game stint in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings during the 2004-05 season, Sindel has not shown much interest in making the jump to North America. He will likely remain in his native country.
Karel Hromas, LW – Sparta Praha, Extraliga
Drafted 2004, 4th round, 123rd overall
Another Czech forward taken by Chicago in the 2004 draft, Hromas had his most productive professional campaign of his career for HC Sparta Praha in the Extraliga. Now in his fourth full season with the club, the 6’2 winger scored two goals and a career-high 15 points in 48 games. The 24-year-old winger added another career high with 75 PIMs while helping the squad into the Extraliga playoffs. He has recorded one assist through four playoff games as Sparta is tied 2-2 with HC Vitkovice Steel in their best-of-seven series.
Hromas spent two seasons with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL from 2004-06. He has since begun to establish himself in the Czech Extraliga and is likely to play out his career in Europe.