Speculation is running wild as the NHL training camps have begun and teams are gearing up for their first pre-season games. The Chicago Blackhawks enter the season with a lot of question marks; one of those being who will replace Artemi Panarin. Clearly the reason for the Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad trade was to give Captain Jonathan Toews consistency on his line and a physical teammate who can help him work the boards, do the dirty work in front of the net, and ultimately help Toews regain his scoring touch. If all goes well, that fixes the first line, but leaves a gap in the second line. Patrick Kane has shown over the years that he can produce no matter who his line-mates happen to be, but he did enjoy nice chemistry with Panarin who scored 75 points last year.
The leading candidate so far has been returning veteran Patrick Sharp who is very familiar with Kane. A line consisting of Sharp, Artem Anisimov, and Kane does make sense and appears to be a line that could produce some points. However, today in camp, a line emerged that makes perfect sense for several reasons. Coach Quennville experimented successfully with a line consisting of Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz, and Patrick Kane.
The main reason that this makes sense is Alex DeBrincat needs to be on the ice. Some of us who are treating him like a perennial All-Star probably need to pull the reins a little on our accolades, but there is no other player on this roster that screams for a chance like DeBrincat. In all levels of play, DeBrincat simply scores at an amazing pace. In the Ontario Hockey League, he scored 50 goals in three straight seasons, including 65 goals and 62 assists this year. Recently in the four games of the Traverse City Prospect Tourney, DeBrincat scored four goals, got one assist, and dropped the gloves to fight a much larger man. He knows how to put the puck in the net, he doesn’t shy away from physical play, and he can produce a ton on a line where Kane will draw much of the attention. He could make us say, “Aretemi Who?” in short order.
The second part of this changeup is replacing Artem Anisimov with Nick Schmaltz. This move makes sense for what it means for line two as much as line three. For line two, this is the chance that Schmaltz needs. Many feel that he has the potential to put up great offensive numbers, but languishing on the bottom six won’t get him there. He is fast, he can be physical, and his woes at the faceoff dot will be no worse than those of Anisimov. Kane can make anyone look good, so it is unlikely we will see a dip in offensive production at the center spot.
What this means for line three is even more important. Lines three and four have not been lines that produce much offense leaving the onus on the first two lines. A third line consisting of Patrick Sharp, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Hartman could be the offensive punch that the team needs. Apparently, Sharp is in excellent condition after his injury last year. Two years ago, Sharp netted 55 points. No one expects him to be a 30 goal scorer, but there is an expectation that the scoring touch isn’t gone. Playing alongside Artem Anisimov will certainly help. Anisimov possesses good speed, a nice scoring touch, and a willingness to get in front of the net. Anisimov can also score; while healthy last year, Anisimov scored 45 points in 64 games. If the leg injury is healed, Anisimov looks to have a very promising season. Joining these two is Ryan Hartman who scored 31 points in 76 games last year, and also recorded 121 hits. Hartman has never been the beneficiary of a consistent line and has spent most of his play on the bottom six. His aggressive style and speed will mesh nicely with Sharp and Anisimov. This line could be the answer to the bottom six woes the Blackhawks have experienced recently.
Yes, there are still question marks with this team. The backup goalie situation isn’t clear and the defense doesn’t appear to have improved over last year’s crew. However, this line two combination provides a solid answer to the question of who will replace Panarin. Not only does it answer the question of line two, but puts an exclamation point on line three. We will find out on Tuesday when the Hawks play the Blue Jackets.
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