The Blackhawks roster is set, and we’ve started looking at the team’s depth chart heading toward the coming season.
On Sunday, we examined the potential fourth line combinations. Next, we looked at the third line potential for this season. Then, in the third edition of our series, we looked at how the second line might appear this year.
Finally, let’s take a look a the Blackhawks projected top line this year.
Jonathan Toews will probably be skating on the top line in Chicago for the rest of his playing career. He is coming off perhaps the best regular season of his career, having lead the team with 76 points, earning a Selke nomination and leading Blackhawks forwards with a plus-25 rating.
He is one of the best centers in the NHL, and he may have not peaked yet.
On his one side will be the man his career has been linked to since they made their NHL debut together, Patrick Kane. Despite summer wrist surgery, Kane is supposed to be ready for Opening Night. If it’s possible to quietly put up a point per game in the NHL, Kane did it last year; he was one of only 11 players to appear in at least 70 games and register a full point-per-game during the 2010-11 season.
Opposite Kane will probably be Andrew Brunette. The 6’1, 210 pound forward will replace Troy Brouwer’s presence on the Hawks’ roster next year. At 38 and coming off a down year in Minnesota, his one-year deal with the Blackhawks is a neon light screaming two things: “Cup Run” and “Jump-Start My Career.”
Brunette has only missed three regular season games in the last decade, and has scored at least 18 goals in eight of the last nine seasons. The Blackhawks brought him in to be a physical, top-six forward and he’ll get every chance to do precisely that opposite on a line with two of the great young talents in the NHL.
Now that we’ve finished our series looking at the forward lines, let’s review how the four lines could appear on Opening Night.
Line 1: Brunette-Toews-Kane
Line 2: Frolik-Sharp-Hossa
Line 3: Bickell-Bolland-Smith
Line 4: Mayers-Krüger-Stalberg
This lineup is faster and more physical than the group Quenneville had to work with last year when the Hawks raised their first banner in 49 years. The following forwards that skated on Opening Night in Colorado last year are no longer with the organization:
- Troy Brouwer
- Jake Dowell
- Jack Skille
- Tomas Kopecky
- Fernando Pisani
Last year, when Patrick Sharp and Brian Campbell couldn’t skate in the home opener, two would-be college sophomores – Nick Leddy and Brandon Pirri – were in uniform. When the puck drops to open the 2011-12 campaign, the Hawks will have players on their bench with Stanley Cup Finals experience making less than a million dollars.
More importantly, the Blackhawks will have a lot of leverage on the trade market. Inexpensive players on expiring contracts are the best friend of a general manager looking for a band-aid during the season, and the Hawks have a handful that are renting a roster spot in Chicago until a kid in Rockford is ready for prime time. If, or when, Jimmy Hayes, Pirri or another forward is ready to take the next step, Bowman shouldn’t have any trouble moving a veteran.
There is plenty of reason to hope in Chicago this winter.