Blackhawks

Viktor Tikhonov finding his niche on Blackhawks' top line

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Viktor Tikhonov finding his niche on Blackhawks' top line

Viktor Tikhonov didn’t have much time to think about the assignment when he first received it. The forward wasn’t even sure coach Joel Quenneville was talking to him when he called Tikhonov to join first liners Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa for the next shift.

“I kind of did a double take," Tikhonov recalled. "I thought I heard their names first and then mine last. I was like, ‘Wait, is that me?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s you. Let’s go,’ Two seconds later you’re on the ice and you’re playing. Luckily we had a good first shift and it was easy after that. “

Tikhonov had a few games away from that top line after that but he was back there these last two games. He’s now had the longest stint of any left wing with Toews and Hossa this early season, so apparently something is working. And Tikhonov hopes it keeps working.

The Blackhawks’ top line seems to be finding a little bit more of a rhythm lately, thanks to the trio remaining in the same. Tikhonov has added size and strength to a line that already had its share with Toews and Hossa. The three have generated some scoring opportunities and possession, two things that were absent through some earlier games.

[MORE: Jonathan Toews scores OT winner as Blackhawks top Lightning]

“He’s a big body and plays well in the offensive zone,” Toews said. “We just want to keep plays alive and have the puck a little longer and eventually things will open up. In the first number of games there, we were just one and done. We’d have maybe one chance, have the puck for 10 seconds, try to make one play, it was a turnover and we’d spend the shift in our zone. He’s a smart player; he has his head up and knows where to go. Three big bodies out there should be able to keep the pucks and eventually some things will develop offensively.”

Hossa said Tikhonov has shown his dependability.

“I think he’s the type of guy, you can rely on him coming back. He’s a good back checker,” Hossa said. “Also, he’s strong on the puck and can make some plays. The combination, we can benefit from that.”

Tikhonov has been making the most of his second go-around in the NHL. He was in the Coyotes organization from 2008-2011, spending his final season over here with the San Antonio Rampage, the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate at the time. He spent the last four seasons with SKA Saint Petersburg, where he was a top-six forward and part of the power play. He also became a teammate and friend to fellow Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin – Panarin signed with the Blackhawks in May and Tikhonov did the same in July. Tikhonov has helped Panarin learn English and has been a translator between Panarin and the coaches and media.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

But Tikhonov’s main focus here is to make the most of his NHL second chance. So far, it’s everything he hoped it would be.

“I had a little taste of it a few years back. I may have taken it for granted a little bit,” Tikhonov said. “It wasn’t easy getting there – obviously it was a tough journey. You start to relax and think, ‘Oh, you’ve made it.’ All of a sudden the next year, you’re not there anymore. So it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of hard seasons. This year I’m definitely not going to let the opportunity get away from me.”

The Blackhawks have been looking for stability, a consistent trio on that line. As of now, they may be onto something. If Tikhonov ends up on another line, he’ll take advantage of that chance in the same manner. But he’ll make the most of this top-line opportunity as long as he has it.

“Obviously this is probably one of the nicer roles to have, to be playing with those two guys,” Tikhonov said. “I’m all over the place in my game. I’ve had so many different roles the last couple of years I’m used to everything. So wherever I’m needed I’m ready to take on that role.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

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With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.