Looking around the NHL, there are quite a few teams looking for help on the blue line.
In Chicago, the Blackhawks actually have pretty good depth heading into the shorter season. Playing fewer games should help Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to handle the workload given to them by coach Joel Quenneville, but how the other four slots are filled will make an enormous impact on the coming season.
Here’s a look at the defensemen for the Chicago Blackhawks heading into the short season.
First, let’s get to know the new guys.
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Last year in Phoenix, Rozsival was one of five defensemen to average over 19 minutes per game; however, only two of them played more than 65 games. Rozsival average 19:19 in 54 games last season, adding one goal and 12 assists. In those limited games, he blocked 91 shots and was credited with 62 hits. He also averaged 1:53 on the ice short-handed, which should, hopefully, help the Hawks special teams. Where he fits between the second and third pair is up in the air, but he could certainly handle the workload in a shorter season to be a second-pair defenseman this year.
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Brookbank skated in 80 games with Anaheim last year, contributing three goals and 11 assists while averaging 15:36 per night. Like Rozsival, he could be heavily involved in the Hawks’ penalty killing unit this year; he ranked third on the Ducks, averaging 1:49 per game on PK duty. He was credited with 120 hits and 110 blocked shots last season. He likely figures into the Hawks’ bottom pair, battling to get into the lineup as the 6/7 defenseman each night. Perhaps the more intriguing question is who will be skating on that bottom pair with Brookbank each night.
ht: 6-0 wt: 190
We got to see a little of Oduya in Chicago after the trade deadline last season, and he was at least adequate skating next to Nick Leddy; he posted five points (one goal, four assists) in 18 games and was plus-three. However, then he played six awful games in the postseason and many fans were ready to wash their hands of the perceived rental. GM Stan Bowman still handed him a three-year extension in late-May, though. In 81 total contests last season, Oduya was credited with 140 blocked shots, and averaged over 20 minutes on the ice per game between his time in Chicago and Winnipeg. He could skate on the second or third pair each night.
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The offer sheet he signed with San Jose has become more of a cruel joke than gauge of a young player’s value in the two years since Doug Wilson extended a financial middle finger to Bowman. He did block 142 shots in 69 games last year, but he has never developed into more than an aggravatingly mediocre puck handler; he had more giveaways (51) last year than a frustratingly average Duncan Keith (50) had in nearly 600 more ice minutes. He’s probably a top-four defenseman in most NHL cities, but the Hawks depth could make him a trade chip if/when Bowman goes shopping.
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We started to see some of the offensive promise that made Leddy a first round pick by the Wild a couple years ago last season, as he put up three goals and 34 assists to finish second among Chicago defensemen with 37 points. He also ranked third among Blackhawks blue liners, averaging over 22 minutes per night; he was the only member of the Hawks group of defensemen to skate in all 82 games last season as well. But there were streaks of bad play throughout last year that led to questions, which have become louder after a less-than-stellar performance in Rockford during the lockout. With some talented other youngsters maturing in Rockford, and with this being the final year of his entry-level contract, Leddy will need to be more consistent on both ends of the ice this year.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook continued to be the workhorses in Chicago. They averaged big minutes in every situation and were asked to carry an inconsistent group last year.
Unfortunately, the focus of many in and out of Chicago has been the quality of play from Keith since he won the Norris Trophy. Last year was, admittedly, not his best. Some have wondered if Quenneville is using his top pair too much.
Fortunately, Quenneville has the ability to skate depth players like Oduya and Rozsival nearly 20 minutes per night which, coupled with Hjalmarsson and Leddy (theoretically) developing chemistry with them, could (should) take some of the burden off the shoulders of the Hawks’ top pair.
The 48-game schedule makes this season a sprint, and the Hawks are certainly equipped to spread the ice time out if they choose to do so this year. This group must be more consistent in front of the roster’s biggest question mark, Corey Crawford, if this team wants to go deep into the postseason.