When he started the 2010 playoffs on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, it raised more than a few eyebrows. But Bryan Bickell had shown flashes of a developing power forward that had caught the attention of the coaching staff just enough that he got a look.
In fact, his development led to the Hawks giving the restricted free agent a three-year deal over the summer. If Hawks fans can think back two summers, the progression (and extension) of Bickell is very similar to that of Troy Brouwer. The Hawks second round pick (41st overall) in 2004 looked like he was ready to make a big step into the NHL.
Bickell, 24, came out of the gates strong, posting a point in four of the season’s first five games. But a drought came when Bickell’s scoring, and ice time, disappeared; he had just one point in a nine-game stretch between Oct. 16 and Nov. 6. A lot of Bickell’s struggles, like those of the rest of the roster, came from a lineup that has yet to settle, but there were times when Bickell was a ghost.
As injuries have started to open opportunities, though, Bickell has taken advantage. He has six points in the last five Blackhawks games, and now has 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) through 33 Hawks games (30 for Bickell). He also ranks third on the Blackhawks with 73 hits, which has become a bigger part of his game lately. At 6’4 and 224 pounds, he brings enough size to the ice to be a force, and has started to use it to his advantage.
The Blackhawks have struggled to find consistency this year, but Bickell has continued to provide a spark and bring a physical force to the ice. Over the past two weeks, he has had perhaps the most lethal (and effective) wrist shot on the team, and is showing a confidence that hasn’t been seen from him yet in his NHL career.
Through Wednesday night’s games, Bickell is tied with Carolina’s Jeff Skinner for third among NHL rookies with eight goals; San Jose’s Logan Couture (14) and Edmonton’s Taylor Hall (10) are the rookie leaders. He also ranks second among rookies in hits, trailing only Matt Martin of the New York Islanders (96).
Considering he’s on pace for over 30 points this year and could push for over 20 goals, his $542,000 cap number could make him one of the best bargains in the NHL. The fact that he’s locked-up at that number for two seasons after 2010-11 shows that Stan Bowman did a masterful job extending the young forward when he had the chance.