Spencer Abbott was already surprised that the Blackhawks recalled him on Tuesday night. Imagine his shock when he saw the line assignments heading into Wednesday’s practice, and he was on the top one.
Abbott had a good camp for the Blackhawks and is producing for an IceHogs team (21 points in 30 games) that has otherwise struggled. Now he’ll see if his AHL work translates into the NHL on Thursday, when he makes his Blackhawks debut against the Buffalo Sabres.
It’s actually not a massive surprise that Abbott will get a chance on the top line. It’s the second consecutive season in which the Blackhawks are trying to get consistent production from that group. Marian Hossa’s imminent return should certainly help. As for Abbott, he has to calm the “nerve-wracking” feeling he experienced joining Hossa and Jonathan Toews at Wednesday’s practice.
“It’s going to be intimidating, [but] I have to stay within myself and play my game. I can’t try to do too much,” Abbott said. “You have a tendency to look for them when you get the puck and get rid of the puck and give it to them as much as you can. I’m going to try my best not to play like that, just try to play my game and hopefully things work out.”
Indeed, it’s an easy trap for anyone on the top line to get into: you’re with Toews and Hossa, so get them the puck early and often. Let’s remember back to early last season when Teuvo Teravainen did that too much. It’s a delicate balance that Abbott will have to take. Hossa, who just met Abbott for the first time today – Hossa was at World Cup during Abbott’s time at training camp – said Abbott should adjust pretty well.
“Sometimes you can say they throw him in the water and now you have to swim. On the other hand, we’re just going to try to help him,” Hossa said. “He’s got what I heard, a good hockey IQ. I like to play with players like that. Hopefully we can click right away and keep it simple, you know, don’t try to complicate things too much. But I think he’s a smart player, so it should be good.”
Abbott spent one season in Sweden after his first go-around in the AHL, “had just gotten stale for me.” The experience was a good one, as Abbott improved his defensive game. But right now it’s his scoring the Blackhawks could use.
“I think he just gives us a little bit of offense, and I think that’s the mindset of him coming in here and see how he handled it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll see in the course of a game but certainly he has skill and can make plays, and playing with top guys maybe you’ve got a chance to complement his type of player or role.”
Abbott shouldn’t be surprised he’s here: he’s done well in Rockford and he’s being rewarded for that. As for the surprise of joining the top line, he’ll have to keep those nerves at bay.
“They’re obviously both very, very high end guys. It’s a privilege to be out there on the same line as them,” Abbott said. “I’ll do what I can to keep up.”