It might be time for Troy Brouwer to take a seat.
After Marian Hossa joined the team in late-November, Brouwer found himself eventually settling on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He excelled while skating with the two young superstars, and finished with the best season of his NHL career. His 22 goals and 40 points blew away his previous career bests, and his work ethic had been credited by many organization personnel for his improved play and resulting increase in ice time.
However, Brouwer missed the last four games of the regular season to handle a family issue, and has not been the same player since.
After averaging 16:22 on the ice during the regular season, Brouwer’s ice time fell to an average of just 9:32 in the Nashville series. His stat sheet was almost empty in that series as well; after being near the top of many statistical categories for the Blackhawks during the regular season, especially hits, Brouwer was -4 with zero points on just seven shots in the six games against the Predators.
In Monday night’s 4-2 Blackhawks victory, forward Brouwer played a team-low 5:31 and was -1 on the night. If the ice time is any indication, Brouwer’s time on the ice in the 2010 playoffs might be disappearing quickly.
The obvious lack of confidence in Brouwer has impacted the Hawks rotation as well. Before Monday night’s win, the Blackhawks made a couple of roster changes, adding forwards Ben Eager and Adam Burish and moving Dustin Byfuglien back to defense. However, after the ugly start the coaches decided to skate five defensemen and bumped Byfuglien back to the forward rotation.
In fact, Brouwer had started the game back on the top line with Kane and Toews, but was replaced in the first period by Hossa on a number of shifts and eventually Byfuglien was skating consistently in his place.
If Brouwer isn’t going to be a consistent, contributing player, the Blackhawks cannot afford to continue playing a man down in the second and third periods of games. Vancouver, and whomever the Hawks would play if they advanced to the Western Conference and Stanley Cup Finals, are too deep for even a deep Blackhawks team to play without a full compliment of players.
So who should the Hawks play in Brouwer’s place?
One option could be Bryan Bickell. He replaced Brouwer with Kane and Toews for the final three games of the Nashville series, and played very well. In just the final three games, he one assist but was +4 in the series and provided good action in front of the net. He would appropriately compensate for Brouwer’s size missing from the ice, and might bring a fresh pair of legs to the game.
Another option could be Colin Fraser. The Blackhawks haven’t been very good in the faceoff circle in the two games to start this series, and Fraser has not only done an adequate job in the circle but would add another body to the penalty kill unit as well. The way the refs are kicking players out of faceoffs in this series, having an additional center available on the ice isn’t a terrible idea.
There is a third option that could present an intriguing potential to the mix, however.
Kyle Beach is a 20-year-old kid who spent the 2009-10 season in the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs. If you haven’t read about him yet, you haven’t visited CommittedIndians; we’ve been telling you about Beach all year. Not only is he the organization’s top forward prospect, but he’s big enough (6’3 210) to replace Brouwer’s physical play on the ice.
What makes him intriguing is that he brings an offensive approach to the ice that could be a dynamic, series-changing energy. Beach scored 52 goals in 68 games with Spokane this year, and followed that stellar regular season with seven goals in seven playoff games.
Doubters will say that the jump from juniors, especially the WHL, to the NHL is a nearly-impossible move, especially in the postseason. “He needs to get his feet wet in the AHL first,” some will say.
Spokane’s playoff run ended before the Rockford IceHogs season concluded, so the Hawks promoted Beach to their AHL affiliate in time for their postseason. In four games there, Beach led the IceHogs with three goals.
He can score. He did in the WHL, and has shown the ability to change games in the AHL. Why not see what he can do at the NHL level?
With the changes that are coming for the Blackhawks this summer because of the salary cap, Beach undoubtedly will get a long look this summer as a potential component of the 2010-11 roster. Because of his fantastic season and playoff runs at two levels, he was recalled before the Vancouver series to skate with the NHL club in practices; he’s available to play if the Hawks chose to use him.
If Brouwer’s spot on the roster isn’t going to see heavy minutes, why not see if Beach is lightning in a bottle? What’s the worst thing that could happen? He doesn’t score? From the looks of Brouwer’s stat sheet, nothing is status quo right now.