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Marcus Kruger, other Hawks youngsters will spend time with IceHogs

Center Marcus Kruger will report Rockford IceHogs’ training camp next week. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Center Marcus Kruger will report to the Rockford IceHogs’ training camp next week. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:33AM

Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger spent parts of last season with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on his wings, a dream come true for such a young player.

Next week, though, Kruger, 22, will wave goodbye to the NHL for the time being.

Kruger, Nick Leddy, Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Bollig, Dylan Olsen and Brandon Saad played for the Hawks in the playoffs last season, but they will report to the Rockford IceHogs’ training camp next week.

In some ways, it’s a better situation compared to the plight of Hawks veterans as the NHL’s lockout persists.

In their eyes, they get to be part of a team with players they know in a town they can pronounce that’s only a drive away, not across an ocean. It’s a benefit of having two-way or entry-level deals.

“There’s not much you can do about it,” said Kruger, who had 26 points in 71 games last season. “I’m going to try to do my best there and help the team as much as I can and get better there. That can be good for me. I’ll do the best I can with the situation.

“You have to play games. That’s how you get better. For us going down there, it’s going to be good.”

The IceHogs should be a better team and draw more fans because of their arrivals, but the entire American Hockey League will benefit from the lockout.

During the 2004-05 lockout, plenty of could-be, would-be NHLers played in the AHL. The league was filled with future NHL standouts: Sharp, Jason Spezza, Ryan Miller, Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Niklas Kronwall, Cam Ward, Eric Staal, Dustin Brown and Mike Cammalleri.

The same will happen this season, especially if the lockout is a long one.

Leddy, Shaw and Kruger might be the most notable Hawks, but the talent level of the AHL reached new heights when the Oilers’ Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Flyers’ Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, the Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner and the Devils’ Adam Henrique were assigned.

“The league is going to be good,” Kruger said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun there.”

Being part of a team and competing will help during what could be an extended lockout, but there’s still frustration. Young players across the league already lost numerous chances to impress teams when the preseason was canceled through Sept. 30.

“It’s obviously not ideal,” Bollig said recently. “Once you get that taste in the NHL, you’d like to keep it going and never look back. It is what it is. It’s nothing I can take care of personally.”

Regulars in Rockford, including 2008 first-round pick Kyle Beach, are excited about their arrival. They’ll have a better team and face better competition as they try to ascend the depth chart.

“I’ve talked to them quite a bit,” Beach said. “They’re excited. Unlike other guys, they still get to play hockey. Obviously, it’s not the Blackhawks, where everybody wants to be, but it’s a way to keep playing, so when the season does come back, we’re prepared, and they’ll be ready to jump right in and be with the Blackhawks again.”

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