We’ve already looked at the Blackhawks depth on the blue line and the current state between the pipes, so now – a day before the season begins – let’s look at the forwards the Hawks will have on the ice this season.
There wasn’t much turnover from last season, which led to a lot of Bowman-bashing this summer but may ultimately be a positive for the team with a short training camp.
Last year, the Blackhawks finished tied for fifth in the NHL with 241 goals scored (2.94 per game), and should continue as one of the better scoring groups in the league. Chicago features one of the better groups if top-six forwards in the NHL and, when healthy, they’re as dynamic as any team in the game.
But the key to that last statement is the part about health; last year’s season ended in a series against Phoenix that saw Marian Hossa leave the ice on a stretcher and Jonathan Toews playing in spite of being far from being 100 percent. Having those two stars on the ice will be crucial for the Hawks during the lockout-shortened 48-game season.
Here are the forwards that broke camp with the Hawks and will be in Los Angeles tomorrow:
Captain Serious was a Hart candidate before a concussion sidelined him for the final seven weeks of the regular season. When he’s on the ice, Toews is one of the best two-way centers in the game, and was nearly a point-per-game player last year (57 points in 59 games before the injury). The Hawks desperately need him to be at his best, which appears to be the case with the season beginning tomorrow.
Last year was a trying one for Kane fans. He started the season with an injured wrist and trying to work himself into the second line center position, a project that ultimately failed. He was one of only three Blackhawks forwards to dress in more than 80 games last year, though (Hossa and Jamal Mayers were the others), and still put up 23 goals and 43 assists. It appears he’ll start this year with David Bolland and Patrick Sharp on what could be a dynamic offensive line, which should provide plenty of opportunities for point production from 88. Quenneville told The Score on Friday morning that he expects “big things” from Kane this year.
Hossa led the Blackhawks with 48 assists, 77 points and 20 power play points in 81 games last year. He is, when healthy, among the best in the game… but he’s been a ghost since the Raffi Torres hit in April. The medical staff cleared him for contact and he’s been on the ice with his teammates since the lockout ended, but he was quick to admit that he doesn’t yet know how his body will respond to game-speed contact. The Blackhawks need him to be healthy and effective this year to have a shot at another Stanley Cup.
Sharp led the team with a robust plus-28 rating, and was among the league leaders with 33 goals. Spending consistent time with Kane should help him to stay among the league’s elite snipers, and moving Bolland to center on their line could help both wings have a good year.
As we’ve mentioned already, Bolland will get the bump up to the team’s “second” line this year; it’s hard to consider a line with Kane and Sharp a “second” group. He tied an NHL career-high with 19 goals last year, but will be asked to increase his ice time from the 16:30 he averaged last year. His health concerns appear to be in the past, and he’ll get a fantastic opportunity to have a big season this year. Bolland will need to improve in the faceoff circle this year, though.
Last year saw flashes of the talent Stalberg possesses finally being realized, especially at the expense of the Blue Jackets. Despite floating around the lineup, Stalberg put up 22 goals and 21 assists while averaging only 14:04 on ice per game. He wasn’t part of the power play last season, which coach Joel Quenneville has indicated could change this year. He can skate, and showed the ability to finish last year… now we need to see both consistently for Stalberg to become a fixture in the Hawks’ top six (or nine) forwards.
The urban legend that was Andrew Shaw will now have to face the reality of a second NHL season. He was a spark the Hawks desperately needed last season, bursting on the scene with 12 goals in only 37 NHL games after starting the year on an AHL contract with the IceHogs. How, and where, he figures into the lineup will be something to watch this year.
I intentionally mention Shaw and Carcillo together because, frankly, they present the biggest concern for me heading into the season. Carcillo piled up 82 penalty minutes in only 28 games last year before a knee injury ended his suspension-filled season, while Shaw had 50 PIM in his 37 games; the Blackhawks finished last year ranked 27th in the NHL at killing penalties (78.1 percent). Having two penalty magnets on a team that struggles to keep opponents off the board when short-handed is a recipe for disaster. With that being said, Carcillo did show some flashes of being able to contribute offensively and indications are that he’ll get a look opposite Hossa on the Hawks’ top line. Carcillo needs to stay out of the penalty box and impact the box score on a frequent basis to be a good asset for this team.
Bickell is your preseason WTF Player on this roster for the second consecutive year. We discussed the frustration with his game at length last year; when he wants to be a physical impact on a game, Bickell can be one. The problem is that Bickell’s play last year was as consistent as snow in the Chicago forecast. It appears he’s destined for a bottom-six role this year with free agency in the not-too-distant future.
He won’t turn 23 until late May, but Kruger has shown the ability to be an effective agitator in the NHL over the last year. In spite of his frame, he’s done a decent job working the corners and creating traffic in front of the net; that frame, however, hasn’t been enough to keep opponents from taking advantage of him on occasion. He also needs to get better at the dot. Getting a chance to work into the role his game is best suited for – third-line center – should help Kruger’s comfort level, but isn’t likely to help his offensive development.
Mayers was the best player-not-named-Toews at the dot last year, winning over 56 percent of his draws in a fourth line role. He was asked to be a solid veteran on the fourth line and provided a smart, physical presence throughout the regular season. A couple healthy scratches in the postseason (in the wake of a perceived lack of response to the Torres hit on Hossa) led to questions about his future with the organization, but he’s back and should play the same role this year.
Saad broke camp with the Hawks again this year just days after being named the AHL Player of the Week. There’s a ton of potential with Saad, who has a powerful stride and appears to have a high hockey IQ. Whether or not Quenneville uses him – and, if he gets into the lineup, which line he skates on – will go a long way in determining his success… and the team’s willingness to keep him on the NHL roster for the entire season.
If Bickell is your WTF Player, Frolik is your “Anyone Want a Wing? We’ve Got One Available” Player. To say he was snake-bit last year is an understatement; his offense has disappeared and his confidence appeared to be completely gone when last year ended. A fairly successful time in Europe during the lockout may have helped bring back some of his swagger (fingers crossed), but more struggles could put him on the chopping block when the Hawks consider their buyout options this summer. With talented youngsters in Rockford ready for a chance, wasting a roster spot on someone as painfully ineffective as Frolik was last year likely won’t happen much longer.
He made he season-opening roster, and was entertaining in the fighter/goon role at the end of last year, but the fears I expressed regarding PIM magnets on this team when discussing Carcillo and Shaw are further cemented when considering Bollig joining them on the ice. He has more offensive upside than John Scott did (Helen Keller does), but his role was primarily as a fighter last year and I struggle to see how/where that’s needed if Carcillo and Shaw are healthy.