Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Vermette gaining victories, confidence on face-offs

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Blackhawks: Vermette gaining victories, confidence on face-offs

Winning face-offs: the Blackhawks have had their moments in that category, with Jonathan Toews long being the most consistent player there.

It was one of the reasons Antoine Vermette was acquired by the Blackhawks at the trade deadline. His first round numbers, coming off healthy-scratch status in the first two games against the Nashville Predators, were OK.

“It’s match-ups, sometimes,” said Vermette, who admitted he wasn’t sure what his first-round win percentages were. “You get to know the opponent a little better than some guys. Sometimes you get on a roll as well and you get a little rhythm in your face-off as well.

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Well, Vermette got on a roll that had him at his face-off best in the second round.  After winning 44.4 to 65 percent of his face-offs against the Predators, Vermette took off against the Minnesota Wild, his winning percentages ranging from 55.6 percent (Game 3) to as high as 80 percent (Game 4). All those victories were a big help for the Blackhawks, who swept the Wild and will face the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final, beginning on Sunday.

“I thought he improved tremendously in the dot. [When] you’re out there against other lines, in your own end, the emphasis on winning or just getting it out cleanly is what we look for. And he won several big faceoffs in our own end, and it helps us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He did a good job; I thought he progressed in his 5-on-5 play, as well. So it was a good series for him.”

Confidence is a pivotal part of any player’s game. Vermette’s confidence probably wasn’t too high as the playoffs began, and he was a healthy scratch in Games 1 and 2 vs. Nashville. But as he’s played through this postseason he’s looking better, especially in the face-off circle.

Still, it’s a fine line between a face-off win and loss.

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“It’s pretty tight,” Vermette said. “At that point you hear a lot about details: every team, every center tries to do the best with it. Certainly the faceoff area, everyone’s trying to get an advantage right off the bat. You start with the puck or you’re chasing it; the difference is slim. Sometimes you get bounces here and there but for the most part, you try to give yourself a better chance.”

Vermette has given himself and the Blackhawks a chance with his face-off victories. He has won 67 of his 104 postseason face-offs (64.4 percent). He knows that percentage is a bit inflated – Toews is at 50.7 percent, but has taken 123 more face-offs this postseason. Still, he’s back to winning at the dot, which is his strength.

“I’ve been around enough to know that, you want to reach for that [higher percentage] for sure but 55 is usually pretty good. You want to be that,” said Vermette, who says he’s feeding off that confidence. “There’s momentum, timing, different opponent. There’s a good thing going on you want to feed off it, for sure.”

NHL Draft Profile: D Noah Dobson

NHL Draft Profile: D Noah Dobson

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Noah Dobson

Position: Defenseman
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 180 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"A very effective two-way defenseman with good puck distribution and a strong shot from the points on the power play. He is a point-producer with size, who defends and utilizes strong positioning and a good stick in the defensive zone."

NHL player comparable: Brent Burns

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks lacked defensemen that generated offense last year. They also lacked defenders than can ... defend. Dobson is a player who can do both, and if he slips past Vancouver at No. 7, the Blackhawks may have a difficult decision on their hands.

Dobson could solve some of those defensive issues, but it likely wouldn't be in time for the 2018-19 season. He needs time to develop properly.

The Blackhawks like to evaluate prospects based on what their ceiling is and where they're at in their development curve, and if they see major upside here, they'll go for it. It just depends if there's somebody available that they like better.

NHL Draft Profile: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi

NHL Draft Profile: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Position: Center
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 189 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"Kotkaniemi has been a top-six forward for his league team in Finland all season and had a very solid U18 season relative to his historical peers in the league. He has very good hands that are high-end, if not flashing elite. He can make very skilled plays off an entry, but what impresses me is how well he can control the puck and keep plays alive."

NHL player comparable:

Fit for Blackhawks:

There isn't a player that has climbed the rankings in such a short amount of time than Kotkaniemi, who was initially projected to go outside the top 10 but could go as high as No. 3 overall. It's likely because there aren't many high-end centers in this draft, and he's the top one.

If Kotkaniemi happens to slip to No. 8, it may be hard for the Blackhawks to pass up on him. He's versatile, too, which is always a bonus, especially when playing under Joel Quenneville. But if they view him as a center, here's how the Blackhawks would look down the middle: Jonathan Toews, Nick Schmaltz, Kotkaniemi and Artem Anisimov.

Um, yeah. That'll work.