When you look down the Boston Bruins’ bench at TD Garden, towards the end, you’ll see the defensemen. Six players, two of which play at a time, while the other four rest.
Parked next to his partner, Brandon Carlo, you’ll find Torey Krug. The 5-foot-9-inch native of Livonia, Michigan is in his seventh season with the Black and Gold. Since 2013-14, he leads all Bruins defensemen in games played and points, with 192 points in 345 games. It’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, one that normally comes from a top draft pick. Not Krug, who was left undrafted when the 2009 NHL Draft came and went.
So, how did a college free agent become the Bruins’ premiere offensive defenseman? Hard work, dedication, and just a little bit of luck.
Before the Bruins
After a successful year in the USHL with the Indiana Ice, Krug began his college career at Michigan State University. As a true freshman, he put up 21 points in 38 games, the second-best total among Spartan defensemen, behind fellow NHLer, Jeff Petry. An interesting side note, Krug also led the team with 67 penalty minutes, which shows either that he was playing undisciplined or that he was trying to play bigger than his 5-foot-9-inch frame.
He ended his three-year college career with 83 points in 114 games. Not for nothing, he was also the team’s captain during his sophomore and junior years. Going from an undersized freshman to the captain of a Division I college hockey team is no small feat, and Krug did it with ease.
He also led the Spartans to a national tournament berth in his junior year, the first for the team since the 2007-08 season. Though they were ousted by Union in the first round, Krug made his mark and it was time for him to take the next step.
Signing His First Deal
On March 25, 2012, just two days after the loss to Union, Krug signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins.
“While I know that we will certainly miss his talent and leadership next season, he will be back to complete his degree, and has left a lasting impression on his teammates that will most certainly continue to have a long-term impact on our program,” Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos said of Krug in an article on the team’s website.
Krug reported directly to the big club; no training camp, no stint in the minors. He made his NHL debut on April 3, 2012, against the Pittsburgh Penguins and played 18:18 of ice-time, third-highest on the team ahead of NHL regulars Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Joe Corvo. He recorded his first NHL point two days later in Ottawa, a secondary assist on a Milan Lucic goal.
When the playoffs came around, Krug wasn’t eligible because of his late signing. His season was over. Think about that. Two weeks before, he was the captain of the Spartans, chasing a national title. Then, in the blink of an eye, he was an NHL defenseman.
Krug’s 2012-13 regular season was mostly spent in the AHL, with the Providence Bruins. The only exception came on March 27, when he made his season debut against the Montreal Canadiens. He recorded one point, a secondary assist on a power-play goal, in 15:47 of ice-time. That was it, however, as Krug was soon sent back to the minors. He finished his year in the AHL with 45 points in 63 games, tops among Providence defensemen.
Then came the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Krug’s First Big Opportunity
In the first round of the playoffs, the Bruins took down the Toronto Maple Leafs in a wild seven-game series best-known for the Bruins’ historic comeback from a 4-1 deficit in the third period of Game 7 to win 5-4 in overtime.
A less-discussed factor of that game, however, was that the Bruins lost another left-handed defenseman to injury. Top-pair blueliner Dennis Seidenberg went down with a lower-body injury in that game causing him to miss the first four games of the next series. Boston was already without Ference, who had suffered a lower-body injury in Game 5. They were also missing Wade Redden, acquired at the trade deadline, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 6.
In need of a spark, the Bruins recalled Krug from Providence. He entered the lineup in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, as the Bruins took on the New York Rangers. What happened next will forever live in playoff lore.
Just under three minutes into the third period of Game 1, the Bruins were on the power play. Dougie Hamilton skated the puck laterally along the blue line, before passing to Krug on the left point. He walked in, to about the top of the circle, and uncorked a slap shot. The puck snuck through Henrik Lundqvist and into the net, tying the score at two apiece. Just like that, Krug was on the board.
The Bruins went on to win the game 3-2 in overtime, thanks to a goal from Brad Marchand. ‘‘What we’ve seen from (Krug) the few games he’s played with us, he doesn’t seem to be intimidated by anything, or any circumstances,’’ head coach Claude Julien said of Krug in an article from Bleacher Report.
Over the course of the five-game series, Krug scored four goals, including three on the power-play. Not only was he scoring goals, but he was scoring at important times. Three of Krug’s goals either tied the game or gave the Bruins the lead. He earned his spot in the lineup for the remainder of the playoffs, playing consistent minutes on the power play. Though the Blackhawks ousted the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was clear that Krug was ready to be a regular member of the big club.
Torey Krug: Today
Since his emergence in the 2012-13 postseason, Krug has become a mainstay in the Bruins’ top-four. He’s missed just nine games over the previous four seasons, and his average ice-time is now well above 20 minutes.
His assists and points have both increased over the past three seasons, culminating in a 43-assist, 51-point season in 2016-17. In the last season or two, he’s also taking shifts on the penalty kill and has handled it well thus far. He’s played a majority of his five-on-five shifts with Carlo but has united with Charlie McAvoy on the second power-play unit, as Drew Johnson hypothesized last year.
The Bruins took a risk by signing Krug. His offensive-minded game flies directly in the face of the team’s rugged mentality. Without a slew of injuries to key defensemen, Krug may never have had the chance to establish himself as a regular NHLer. Judging by his past, however, he wouldn’t have backed down. He would’ve continued to battle until he belonged.