During the first couple months of the season, the Blackhawks auditioned multiple players for that top-line left winger to complement Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
Andrew Shaw seized that opportunity in December and hasn't looked back since.
Now, the Blackhawks will need someone else to step up, the same way Shaw did, in Hossa's absence after he left Saturday's game against the Anaheim Ducks early due to an apparent left leg injury that was officially described as a lower-body injury. Coach Joel Quenneville sounded optimistic that the injury wouldn't keep him out long-term, but admitted Hossa "could miss some time."
The door has sprung open, but it won't be easy shoes to fill.
"Important minutes, special teams, quality ice time," Quenneville said of Hossa's impact on the ice. "You definitely miss (Hossa) playing the right way, but (it) definitely creates some opportunities for some guys that haven't done much recently that should look forward to getting a great chance."
Reading between the lines, the immediate player that comes to mind is Teuvo Teravainen, who was demoted to the fourth line on Saturday night.
Whether it was a tactic to exploit matchups or send a message is unknown, but perhaps it was made more clear following Quenneville's postgame press conference when he didn't hesitate to respond whether Teravainen would get the first crack at an expanded roll as Hossa's fill-in on the first line.
"Well, the opportunity's been there," a seemingly frustrated Quenneville said. "Just grab it."
When Teravainen is on the ice with Toews, the Blackhawks control 52.5 percent of even-strength shot attempts, according to hockeyanalysis.com. When Teravainen is apart from Toews, that number slips to 50.8 percent. Still solid, but the possession numbers increase when they're together, which means the drop-off shouldn't be too significant if that's the direction they choose to go — although Hossa certainly has had a hand in those numbers playing across from Teravainen.
On top of that, Teravainen would be slotted in at right wing, a position he's been more comfortable in, rather than left wing on the top unit, where he's had the chance to play previously.
But it's Hossa's ability to impact the game on a nightly basis that will be difficult to replace.
"Just his consistency," Toews said when asked about Hossa's leadership on and off the ice. "I think you've seen him, he's working his tail off all year, maybe not getting the results he wants to offensively but he's still there taking up minutes, killing penalties, filling in on the power play, playing against top lines and top defensemen all the time.
"Sometimes even if he's not scoring the way he knows he can, you don't realize how much you'll miss a guy like that until he's not in your lineup."
Even before Hossa's injury, acquiring a top-six forward has been a hot topic of discussion as the Blackhawks approach the trade deadline on Feb. 29. An emergence from Teravainen would help lessen the blow of Hossa, and it also might earn himself a permanent spot somewhere in the top-six spot if he takes advantage of that opportunity.