Top six must deliver early, often for Blackhawks

Top six must deliver early, often for Blackhawks

Patrick Kane said he wouldn’t have minded if he and Artemi Panarin were split to start the season.

“I could understand why people would be up in arms one way or another about changing the line,” he said. “But I’ve played with pretty much everyone here except some of the younger guys that are coming up.”

Still, if ain’t broke...

So Kane, Panarin and Artem Anisimov are together again. So are Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the top line, where they’ll be with Richard Panik. The Blackhawks are loading up their top two lines heading into the season, which begins Wednesday night against the St. Louis Blues. And with so many young forwards with little to no NHL experience on the third and fourth lines, the onus is going to be on that top six.

It would be easy –— and for the Blackhawks, great — to think that the second line will immediately build off last year’s numbers. But Kane said throwing the three back together doesn’t mean the same results will automatically show.

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Five questions facing the Blackhawks as regular season begins]

“I think for us it’s important not to just think it’ll happen again,” he said. “We have to do what we did last year: work hard, try to get the puck back and when we get the puck back, work our magic a little bit. The biggest thing is work, especially with us three.”

As much as the Blackhawks would love to see the second line repeat what it did last season, they’d like the top line to get back to where it was prior to last season. Panik, who played on the top line some late last season, gets the first crack at it as the Blackhawks try to avoid playing the turnstile-at-left-wing game again. But overall, that line has to produce more.

“It’ll be huge for us,” Toews said of his line scoring early this season. “But again, we just want to go play with energy, play with excitement, and have fun. We know those results are going to come. I think last year, it was maybe a rougher start and then we were kind of forcing it as the season went along. It got maybe even more mentally tiring as that burden got bigger and bigger as the season went along. The start’s important, but we know we’re excited about things. Just play good hockey.”

The Blackhawks are revamped again this season, especially at forward. They’ll need the young players to do their part. They’ll need their veterans to do even more.

“I know that as a young kid or a veteran guy, I think you’re looking to get off to a great start and know how important, how tough it is to make the playoffs, have success early on in the year,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We have a tough division, a tough conference. Both sides [young guys and veterans] have got to be looking to deliver their part and hold up their end of the bargain. I would say our guys have handled all situations extremely well. It seems like the bigger the challenge, the bigger game, they rise and they meet it head on.”

Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in


Adam Boqvist's entry-level contract with Blackhawks officially kicks in

The youth movement is underway in Chicago and it's happening quicker than expected.

Adam Boqvist played in his 10th NHL game of the season on Sunday, officially triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. That means he will become a restricted free agent at end of the 2021-22 season. If he appeared in nine games or fewer, his contract wouldn't have kicked in until next season, which would've bought the Blackhawks an extra year of Boqvist playing at a cap hit of $894,167.

"Maybe that was a discussion very early on but as far as coach perspective, we like him," head coach Jeremy Colliton said on whether he and GM Stan Bowman had conversations about burning Boqvist's first year. "I think he's played well and it's an opportunity with some injuries to give him some ice time. He's handled it well so far."

Boqvist is the second rookie on the Blackhawks this season to burn their first year, joining No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach. Whether the decisions were dictated by circumstances or not, the Blackhawks have seen enough of both of them to feel they can have an impact on the team in the short term without hindering their developments in the long term.

The number to watch now is 40. Like Dach, if Boqvist appears in 40 or more games this season, it will count as a full season and bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency. Any player that's accrued seven full seasons or is at least 27 years old as of June 30 of that respective year can become an unrestricted free agent.

Boqvist appeared in six games for the Blackhawks during the month of November before getting reassigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League on Nov. 14 when Connor Murphy was ready to return from his groin injury.

But with Calvin de Haan (shoulder) expected to be out long term and Duncan Keith still out with a groin injury, the Blackhawks called up Boqvist for insurance and because they lacked defensemen with offensive upside. It appears he will remain with the big club for the time being and it serves as a chance for their No. 8 overall pick in 2018 to prove he can handle NHL minutes on a consistent basis during a desperate time for the Blackhawks.

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Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild


Patrick Kane's hat trick propels Blackhawks over Wild

As things seemingly spiraled out of control for the Blackhawks, who had lost four straight games - being outscored 14-6 in their past three - and going 3-8-2 in their past 13, they needed their top player to step up. Step up is exactly what Patrick Kane did Sunday night against a hot Minnesota Wild team. 

The three-time Stanley Cup champ and 2013 Conn Smythe trophy winner scored two goals early in the first period before throwing the puck into the Wild's empy net for the 5-3 final score with a little over one minute remaining in regulation.

"It was nice to get one," Kane said of snagging his sixth career regular season hat trick. "You get two early on, you think, 'Maybe I have a chance at one.' Obviously it came a little bit later in the game, but huge fourth goal for us (from Brandon Saad) and I was able to finish it off with an empty net. Obviously that's a big win for us."

Kane made a wraparound attempt at 7:42 of the first period and the Minnesota Wild's Kaapo Kahkonen seemingly denied him with his left pad. However, the United Center crowd went crazy when they saw the replay of the attempt on the jumbotron. After a video review officials determined the puck completely crossed the goal line and the Hawks were up 1-0.

Kane recorded his second goal of the game, putting the Hawks up 2-0 at 11:33 of the first, scoring from the slot off a give-and-go with Jonathan Toews on Chicago's first power play of the game. 

"Showtime" scored into the Wild's empty net at 18:57 of the third period to complete the hat trick. It was his 18th goal of the season.

"He’s such a well-rounded player," Robin Lehner said of Kane. "I think as a goalie, going in practice every day against him, he has such patience with the puck and he’s so accurate with his shot. 

"He doesn’t shoot in the conventional — just go high or try to go bar and in. He goes between the arms, between the legs, over the pads, you know it’s very hard as a goalie to get a read. 

"He waits you out and then it’s in. He had a hell of a game today. He’s one of our leaders and he stepped up and helped turn this around for us."

Kane felt he's been in a rut and knows when he's able to produce, it can give the team a lift.

"I don't think I've been playing as well the past 10 games or so," he said. "Want to start playing better for the team. If I play better it's obviously going to bring more to the group and (there's) a better chance for us to win. That's something we're all trying to do in here is take pride and ownership."

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