Troy Brouwer is going through a tough stretch right now, but the Chicago Blackhawks need him to be active and on the ice in Tuesday night’s Game Six against the Vancouver Canucks.
Brouwer had a fantastic break-out season in 2009-10 for the Blackhawks, establishing career highs in every statistical category. He jumped to 22 goals and 18 assists in the regular season, and was among the Blackhawks leaders in hits all season as well.
Throughout the season, Brouwer was consistently productive somewhere in the box score; if he didn’t score, he’d hit a few people or block a couple shots. Most nights fans could count on Brouwer making an impact on the game somehow. That effort eventually matriculated Brouwer up from the fourth line to join Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the Hawks top line, where Brouwer exploded statistically while providing the physical presence the Hawks needed with their two young superstars.
However, at the beginning of April his father became ill and Brouwer took the final four games of the regular season off to be with his family.
He has not been the same since.
In the first round series against Nashville, Brouwer failed to tally a point and was -4 in the series. His play in the first two games against Vancouver, also pointless and a -1, led coach Joel Quenneville to sit down the 24-year-old forward in favor of Ben Eager and Adam Burish. Brouwer hasn’t been on the ice for the Blackhawks last three games.
Losing Game Five might actually serve the Blackhawks playoff run well if they can work Brouwer back into the flow in Game Six. They have to get Brouwer back on the ice, producing, if they’re going to move on.
Knowing now that the Hawks would face the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals should make the decision to get Brouwer back in uniform that much more important. Brouwer was arguably the best Blackhawks player in their four games against San Jose this year, and certainly played his best hockey of the season against the Sharks.
Brouwer led the Blackhawks with a +5 rating against the Sharks this year, and tied with Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane for second on the team with five points (three goals, two assists) against San Jose this year. He played the second highest number of shifts (104) of all Blackhawks forwards against the Sharks during the four games this season (Toews – 108), and his average ice time of 18:12 was the third-highest total among Blackhawks forwards behind only Toews and Kane.
The Blackhawks have shown throughout the playoffs that they are a deep, versatile team that can score in a number of ways on every line. During the regular season, the Hawks established a physical, puck-possession game that highlighted the skills of players like Brouwer while surrounding him with superstars; Brouwer did a great job of taking advantage of a great situation. If the Hawks are going to move past the Canucks and eventually defeat the San Jose Sharks to earn a shot to play for the Stanley Cup, Brouwer must be a part.
There is another reason, beyond Brouwer himself, that the Hawks need him back on the ice: Kane needs him.
Since the first game of the Canucks series, when Quenneville made a permanent break of Brouwer from the Toews-Kane line, the Canucks have played more physical around Kane and he hasn’t been effective anywhere near the net. In the last four games of the series, Kane’s only goal was the empty-net tally at the end of Game Two; he had four assists in Vancouver but has not attacked the net with any creativity or speed since Brouwer left his side.
While fans are quick to point out the impact playing next to incredible stars like Toews and Kane will have on the production of a player like Brouwer, it’s easy to overlook what Brouwer gave back to that line. While Toews has continued to produce in ways the Blackhawks organization hasn’t seen in generations this postseason, Kane found more free ice in front of him this year because Brouwer was cleaning up the mess around him all year.
Brouwer’s physical play helped Kane as much as Kane’s magic with the puck helped Brouwer.
So not only was Brouwer at his best against the team waiting for the Blackhawks in the Conference Finals, and not only was he a key contributor on the ice all season, but his impact on the players around him on the ice is why Quenneville should dress Brouwer and give him a shot at redemption in Game Six on Tuesday night.