Blackhawks

Adjustments made, Artem Anisimov is back to being effective center for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Adjustments made, Artem Anisimov is back to being effective center for Blackhawks

Artem Anisimov was at his usual spot in front of the net on Wednesday night, scoring a goal that was as necessary for his confidence as it was to help the Blackhawks’ lagging power play.

In his first two seasons with the Blackhawks Anisimov’s net-front presence, and the production that came from it, was fairly regular – 20 goals in 2015-16 and 22 in 2016-17. But Anisimov didn’t look the same and wasn’t as effective to start this season – at least until lately. Now coming off three games in which he’s had a goal in each, Anisimov is back to being the effective center the Blackhawks need him to be.

“I feel much better because I have more puck and I make more plays and feel confident,” Anisimov said following Friday’s practice.

Coach Joel Quenneville said Anisimov has been, “way, way better” in his last three games.

“He’s been way more effective having the puck more, carrying the puck he has more pace to his game,” he said. “He did a great job on the net-front goal the other day by being in the right spot, but certainly his game and the pace has really picked up. It’s such a big improvement in our team game when you add his presence in the middle of the ice.”

Some of it was adjusting to new line mates. Centering Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane the past two seasons, Anisimov would throw the puck to Kane, get to the net, let Kane and Panarin work their magic and be ready for any rebounds or tip/deflection chances that came his way. Now with Patrick Sharp and John Hayden, Anisimov is back to being the main puck carrier. It’s a readjustment, but Anisimov is finding his form again.

“Right now it’s a little bit easier,” Anisimov said. “We play already four games together with Sharpie and Hayds, and you kind of get used to it and get to know each other better. It’s making the game easier.”

So does having more confidence. Struggling to score as much as others through this recent stretch, Anisimov looked like he was lacking that necessary confidence. Three goals in as many games isn’t a massive scoring streak, but it does lend a boost.

Anisimov has worked through some changes this season, from line mates to where he’s at in the lineup to resuming a true center role. It took a little time, but it looks like he’s regaining his form.  

“You lose two wingers like you had, that was a pretty great position to be in playing with two of the best in the game. So maybe there are some adjustments there. But he can still be a position to be playing with some top guys as we’re going along as well,” Quenneville said. “I don’t think he’s complaining with who he’s playing with now, and I think with Arty, that big middle center you like, gives you some options when he’s playing like that.”

2020 NHL Draft: How Rangers getting No. 1 pick affects Blackhawks

2020 NHL Draft: How Rangers getting No. 1 pick affects Blackhawks

On Monday night, during Phase 2 of the NHL Draft lottery, the New York Rangers won the No. 1 overall pick for the 2020 NHL Draft.

Originally, the top pick went to a placeholder team during Phase 1 of the lottery in June. Eight of the teams eliminated during the Stanley Cup Qualifiers  Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets — would each have a 12.5% chance of walking away with the No. 1 pick.

New York grabbing the top pick affects the Hawks in a few ways. 

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First, Hawks fans can relax and enjoy the playoffs with their team in it as the Oilers didn't win the pick. Meaning, if the Oilers had won it, it would have belonged to the Hawks if the Oilers eliminated them in the qualifying round and not the other way around.

Second, the Blackhawks could now get the No. 16 or 17 overall pick if they lose to the Golden Knights in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, depending on the results of the Montreal Canadiens-Philadelphia Flyers series.  

The No. 1 pick of this year's draft is expected to be forward Alexis Lafrenière, who registered 35 goals and 77 assists for a league-leading 112 points in 52 games this season with the Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL, where he also served as the team captain. 

So former Blackhawks winger Artemi Panarin — a Hart Trophy finalist this year with the Rangers — could have a young, skilled forward helping him generate even more offense for New York as early as next season.

Related: Why former Blackhawk Artemi Panarin should win the Hart Trophy

The 2020 NHL Draft is scheduled for Oct. 9 and 10. It was originally scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which paused the NHL on March 12.

Robin Lehner starting Game 1 for Vegas Golden Knights against Blackhawks Tuesday

Robin Lehner starting Game 1 for Vegas Golden Knights against Blackhawks Tuesday

Ahead of the start of Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs' matchup between the Vegas Golden Knights and Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer announced former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner will get the start in net for Vegas in Game 1 against his former team. 

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk during the 2019-20 regular season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner unveils new pads

Lehner was in net for the Knights' overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday in a round-robin contest to help Vegas grab the No. 1 seed in the West for Round One, pitting them against the Blackhawks, who were the No. 12 seed in the qualifying round and were reseeded to be No. 8 for Round One.

Following Saturday's game, Lehner was asked about facing the Blackhawks and his former goalie partner Corey Crawford and if playing with the Hawks earlier this season carries an advantage.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is unreal

"I don't know. All I know is it's going to be fun playing them," Lehner said. "They're a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them, the whole organization... but I think I really like it here (with Vegas), we're a great hockey team."

The 29-year-old netminder got off to a hot start with Vegas ahead of the NHL pause on March 12 going 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.

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