There are very few things ever set in stone but entering this training camp, Artem Anisimov at second-line center was as solid a bet as you could make. But Nick Schmaltz’s strong camp has coach Joel Quenneville thinking, tinkering and considering the 21-year-old for that spot alongside Patrick Kane.
A bit of a surprise, for sure, but Quenneville likes the chemistry of Schmaltz and Kane, who have been skating together for part of the summer. As for Anisimov, if he’s the third-line center, he won’t sulk or change his game.
“I’m just going to go out and play and try to score goals and make plays,” he said following Sunday’s scrimmages.
Anisimov is back to 100 percent after admitting he wasn’t that when the Blackhawks entered the first-round series against the Nashville Predators last spring. The center had suffered a leg injury vs. Montreal in mid-March that sidelined him until Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s ready to go after the long offseason, although who his playing partners will be is now somewhat up in the air. On Sunday Anisimov centered Ryan Hartman and Patrick Sharp as Quenneville continues to look at options, not only for the top two lines, but to bolster bottom-six depth as well.
“I think every team needs good depth at center and have a strong three or four lines,” Anisimov said. “It’s helpful in a team game.”
Alex DeBrincat teamed with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz during Sunday’s scrimmages, as Quenneville gave the 19-year-old a chance in what he’s calling this season’s “lottery spot.” It was just a first glance at the trio but Quenneville liked what he saw.
“The upside of that could be really big,” said Quenneville. “He’s one of those guys who his instincts are high and he’s playing with a couple of guys who have the same type of instincts. The reading and anticipation off plays, communicating without having to communicate, they know where it’s going to go next and that’s something that will only get better as they get accustomed to playing together.”
Quenneville added that, “we’ll have a couple of days to look at him a little more.” The Blackhawks’ first preseason game is Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
General manager Stan Bowman said on Friday that defenseman Michal Rozsival did not pass his training-camp physical. Quenneville specified on Sunday that Rozsival has an upper-body injury. Asked if Rozsival could miss the season, Quenneville said, “we’ll see.”