Now that the Chicago Blackhawks appear to have their roster set for the 2011-12 season, we can start looking forward to coach Joel Quenneville’s potential lines.
In this first edition of our series looking at the Hawks forward depth chart, we’ll focus on the fourth line for the coming campaign.
In a dramatic change from last year, the Blackhawks will actually have a bench with NHL veterans on it this year. With a full roster, and a number of prospect fighting for a roster spot, Quenneville will have to make a decision each night regarding who dresses and who doesn’t; last year, he and Stan Bowman had to figure out if they could afford to replace someone with a kid from Rockford on a few occasions.
A number of faces spent time on the fourth line last year, but the players with the most regular action at the bottom of the depth chart were Ryan Johnson, Jake Dowell, Viktor Stalberg and Fernando Pisani.
This year, it would appear that Stalberg will be back on the fourth line. He bounced anywhere between the second and fourth lines last year, scoring 12 goals with 12 assists while averaging 10:42 in 77 games last season.
It makes sense Stalberg, 25, would be on a line with another youngster from Sweden, center Marcus Krüger. The 21-year-old has been shown a great deal of respect by the Hawks front office, and appears to be in line to get every opportunity to play in the NHL on a regular basis; having someone on his line sharing a common native language will make his transition to playing in North America easier.
How the fourth line is completed will be anyone’s guess. Free agent addition Jamal Mayers would figure to be the best bet for regular ice time. Mayers, who will turn 37 on Oct. 27, had 124 penalty minutes and 14 points in 78 games last year, and can play center or wing. He’s a strong, physical veteran who should help some of the younger forwards on the roster find open space on the ice.
Also in the mix for fourth line will be free agent acquisitions Brett McLean and Daniel Carcillo, rookie Jeremy Morin and Rostislav Olesz, who was acquired from Florida in the trade sending Brian Campbell to the Panthers.
Because of his size – and contract – Olesz might be the most intriguing player on the Blackhawks roster this fall. Listed at 6’1 and 215 pounds, Olesz scored 14 goals in two of the last four seasons with the Panthers. He’ll turn 26 just a few days after Opening Night and has three more years with a $3.15M cap hit left on his deal. Olez missed the end of last year with a knee injury.
Carcillo played in only 57 games in Philadelphia last year, but still managed to earn 127 penalty minutes in limited action. In 133 combined games over the last two full seasons with the Flyers, Carcillo posted only 28 points while being whistled for 344 penalty minutes.
McLean signed a two-way deal, which makes sending him to Rockford an easier process than if one of the team’s veterans was sent down. He spent the last two years in the Swiss-A league, posting 60 points in 87 combined games. McLean has not played in the NHL since 2008-09, when he registered 19 points in 80 games with Florida.
Similarly, Morin could be a loser in a numbers game for the NHL roster to start the year. However, Morin missed the end of the year with concussion issues, and some time in the AHL might better serve him long-term than jumping straight into the NHL.
The Blackhawks have not replaced Johnson’s ability to win faceoffs, but have made significant additions to the team’s size and physical play by adding Mayers and Carcillo to the roster. They should have a better scoring ability on the fourth line this season, and won’t let teams push them around any more either.