Jeremy Colliton has tried to dismiss any notion that forward lines in preseason games or practice groups in training camp give any indication as to what the Blackhawks might look like come October 4 in Prague. But with only two preseason games remaining – one of which could very well be the Rockford IceHogs against the Boston Bruins – it would be quite a shock to see the lines shuffled much before the team heads overseas.
“To me, it’s becoming more clear what our lineup is going to look like,” Colliton said after a 3-2 overtime win over an abbreviated Bruins squad on Saturday. “I think we’re getting what we want out of training camp here.”
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews look like a safe bet to once again start the season on the top line, with Alexander Nylander getting the first look on the left wing. On the second line, the combination of Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat look like they will have Andrew Shaw pestering opponents and opening up some ice for them.
Where the Blackhawks hope to see a major improvement is in the bottom six, where the team struggled to generate offense last season. Stan Bowman’s additions this summer seem to have the Blackhawks in much better position to not have to rely so heavily on their top two lines or top power play unit.
The third line looks fairly set with Brandon Saad on the left wing and Dominik Kubalik on the right wing. David Kampf looks like the favorite to center that line, but the Blackhawks did give Anton Wedin a look there against the Bruins, and he delivered a primary assist on Saad’s goal.
“I think he plays with a lot of energy and he’s a conscientious player. I think he works hard. Both sides of the puck, he’s got a little bit of skill. He’s a strong skater,” Colliton said of Wedin. “I thought he did well, I liked that line. I thought Saad was excellent.”
The fourth line of Drake Caggiula, Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith earned high praise as well.
“I thought that Carpenter line with Smith and Caggiula was really good, really effective for us,” Kane said. “I think that’s something we might have been missing a little bit last year. Good to see them going, seems like that could be a fun line to watch.”
When the Blackhawks’ season ended this past April, Colliton said he wanted to rely less on Kane and use his star in a more “targeted” way. If the third and fourth lines can generate some scoring, or at the very least some offensive zone time, it could go a long way in getting the Blackhawks into a position to confidently roll four lines.
“We have so much more depth, definitely. There’s no question,” Colliton said. “To have the opportunity to move guys up at times, they should be fresh and ready to make a difference further up the lineup. We have competition, which I think is a good formula for us.”
So, while Colliton may try to play coy on forward lines and defense pairings, Kane has much less to hide.
“That was pretty much our lineup, or close to our lineup, so we’re trying to identify the way we want to play,” Kane said. “Obviously, I think we had some spurts tonight where we did that well and some other times where we struggled a little bit. It’s early in the season, we’re still trying to figure it out.”
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