The Blackhawks rolled through their lines on Monday, the ones that included Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, both back from injuries.
But one player was absent from those top four lines: Antoine Vermette, whom the Blackhawks acquired prior to the trade deadline to help bolster their strength at center.
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Vermette has had a tough go in his time with the Blackhawks; he’s been moved around the lineup, from center to wing, and is still looking for his first goal with his new team. So as the Blackhawks prepare for Game 1 against the Nashville Predators on Wednesday, is Vermette on the outside looking in?
“We’ll see,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We know he’s got some experience there in the middle. Depth is something organizationally you need and some guys are ahead of other guys now based on performance. We’ve got to make decisions.”
Vermette had several suitors prior to the trade deadline. The Blackhawks emerged victorious in that sweepstakes, giving the Arizona Coyotes their first-round draft pick from this year’s draft as well as defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. He started as the second-line center and went back to that spot when Richards suffered an upper-body injury late in the season. In between, however, he’s played third line and also wing. In the 19 regular-season games with the Blackhawks, Vermette had three assists.
Asked if he expected to play in this series vs. the Predators, Vermette said, “yes I think so.” He admits the lack of production has been frustrating.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “You don’t want to get over frustrated but it would’ve been nice to contribute more on the score sheet, that’s for sure. But I’m a big believer in the process and don’t try to focus on the end there. Hopefully I can turn things around in that department.
“You have to be consistent, take care of little details and small battles, bring that excitement, that focus,” Vermette said of what it takes to thrive in the postseason. “It’s a lot of fun. You bring that excitement, that intensity and try to make a positive impact.”
So when will Vermette play? The Blackhawks gave up a high pick and a prospect in the hopes of getting a player who could help them late in the regular season and in the playoffs. It would be hard to believe he wouldn’t play at some point against the Predators. At the same time, with Vermette not playing well, he may start this series watching from the bench.
“We always say it doesn’t matter how much money you make or who you are: your performance is going to dictate everything you get and everything you’re going to earn," Quenneville said. "On a need basis, I think organizationally [with] depth you get tested and challenged as you move along here in playoffs. We’re going to need everybody and everything changes instantly in our game. That’s being prepared and having some versatility in your lineup choices is always something you got to look at. That’s kind of where we’re at.”