When the Chicago Blackhawks face off against the Detroit Redwings tonight, they will be without many of their corps players. Although the fans are getting a bit antsy to see Showtime Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Nick Schmaltz, Corey Crawford and others, we know what we are getting with these players. There is no need to risk injury or add more mileage than necessary, and there still many unanswered questions with the rest of this team.
The first line is set with Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Richard Panik, but from there, it’s a puzzle. Not sure whether Coach Quenneville has made his choice at the number two center spot, but Nick Schmaltz has played well in his quest to usurp Artem Anisimov. However, Anisimov has looked strong since returning from injury. Anisimov has also successfully led the second line for two years and is a known quantity for Coach Q. Anisimov will have a chance tonight to stake his claim.
The left wing spot vacated by Artemi Panarin is still up for grabs as well. Phenom Alex DeBrincat seems to be the front runner as he has played well thus far and seems to be able to keep up with the NHL pace. He would be better served with Anisimov at center, but we will have to wait for that. So far, DeBrincat has shown some nice open ice skills with some clean takeaways. If he gets back in the scoring column tonight, look for him to join that second line come opening night.
The third and fourth lines are wide open as well. It is likely the third line center will be Anisimov or Schmaltz and the fourth- Tanner Kero. The wingers right now appear to be Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden, Tomas Jurco, Tommy Wingels, or David Kampf. There is still a chance that Hayden could play center due to his big body and physical play, but wherever, his play so far has certainly merited him with some ice time. Laurent Dauphin certainly has earned consideration with some gritty play- three blocked shots and three hits in his first game. He has also scored a goal. He should get minutes over Tommy Wingels or Lance Bouma due to the upside of his age in relation to those two.
Finally, through four pre-season games, the Hawks seem no closer to a definitive defensive lineup. Connor Murphy hasn’t shown that his game is deserving to play next to Duncan Keith on the first line. Most likely, he will take his place on the second line. He does move the puck well, but will have to do the dirty work that Niklas Hjalmarsson did for the past few years. The potential is there, but he isn’t ready yet. Playing in Arizona for the past few years did him no favors in developing his game.
Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling looked to have secured spots prior to preseason, but they have done nothing to make that concrete- very inconsistent play. Cody Franson has looked pretty decent so far. He has shown that he still has a rocket blue line shot. He has scored three points in his two preseason games. He is not fast, but will be excellent on the second line power play. Jordan Oesterle is another to keep an eye on tonight. He has been very good, and he has been bad. His ability to move the puck and transition to offense is something the Blackhawks sorely need; however, he has shown that he can be a liability in the D zone giving up position to an offensive player in front of the net. He is young; the coaching staff will have to exhibit some patience with this one.
So, things to look for tonight:
- Is Anisimov back to the point where he regains his second line spot? Has his faceoff improved?
- Is DeBrincat NHL ready? Will he make the opening night roster?
- Will any player in the logjam on the bottom two lines step up and take their place?
- Will Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook find line-mates tonight? Will Connor Murphy show he can be an elite defenseman?
Two games left- time is running out. See ya after the game.