Kyle Krug admits he did it.
He cut Cooper Zech, who’s now 20 and part of the Bruins’ prospect pool after signing with Providence of the American Hockey League in the spring, when the defenseman tried out for the Belle Tire U-16 team a few years ago.
“I’m guilty like some guys that doubted Torey. Cooper has proven people wrong numerous times as well,” Torey Krug’s dad told WEEI.com this week.
Zech, a native of South Lyon, Michigan, remembers that time as well and said it was pretty cool that the elder Krug remembers it.
How can Zech forget it? Comparisons between him and Krug keep coming up and will continue to be broached now that he’s in the Bruins’ mix. Zech is listed at 5-foot-9, 161 pounds; Krug even now is listed at 5-9, 186 pounds. After he Zech had 28 points (eight goals, 20 assists) in his freshman season at Ferris State, he decided to leave school early and picked the Bruins over a few other suitors as a free agent. When Krug left Michigan State after a 51-point junior season, he got a deal that sent him straight to the NHL in 2012 before he spent most of the next year with the P-Bruins.
The chip on Zech's shoulder that’s formed in response to how many times he’s been counted out also make Zech reminiscent of Krug, who became a household name during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by proving he was more than just a puck-moving defenseman and power-play specialist.
“Yeah, for sure, you know the big 6-2-plus guys get the first look every time. And it’s just a little bit of adversity that you’ve got to [overcome] and I think it made me better having to prove myself over and over again,” Zech said.
Bruins player development coordinator Jamie Langenbrunner got to see Zech a few times while watching 2016 fifth-round pick Cam Clarke play at Ferris. Langenbrunner was impressed by Zech then, and even more so in Providence, where Zech had four assists in 12 games.
“He was putting up good numbers on a team that struggled to score,” Langenbrunner said. “His mobility, his ability to see the ice. And it all translated very quickly into the American League. I think the biggest surprise for us was how much courage that kid has. Again he is an undersized defenseman, but you wouldn’t know it the way he plays. Like he takes hits, he throws his body, similarities to Torey in that, the competitiveness of him.”
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is on record as saying another team would have to blow him out of the water in order to pry Krug away from the Bruins in a trade, even though Krug is entering the last year of his contract and could be looking to break the bank next summer. If Krug sticks around, that could make fellow diminutive defenseman Matt Grzelcyk a roster casualty at some point. Job openings always arise one way or another.
Zech has a long way to go to make sure his strength and quickness get up to NHL caliber, and there are no guarantees. But what he may lack right now in experience and brawn he certainly makes up for in confidence.
“I’ve got two years [on my deal] in Providence right now, but I want to make those two years as short as possible,” he said.
And maybe someday things will come full circle and he’ll be replacing Krug rather than getting cut by Krug’s dad.
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