Viktor Tikhonov didn’t have much time to think about the assignment when he first received it. The forward wasn’t even sure coach Joel Quenneville was talking to him when he called Tikhonov to join first liners Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa for the next shift.
“I kind of did a double take," Tikhonov recalled. "I thought I heard their names first and then mine last. I was like, ‘Wait, is that me?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s you. Let’s go,’ Two seconds later you’re on the ice and you’re playing. Luckily we had a good first shift and it was easy after that. “
Tikhonov had a few games away from that top line after that but he was back there these last two games. He’s now had the longest stint of any left wing with Toews and Hossa this early season, so apparently something is working. And Tikhonov hopes it keeps working.
The Blackhawks’ top line seems to be finding a little bit more of a rhythm lately, thanks to the trio remaining in the same. Tikhonov has added size and strength to a line that already had its share with Toews and Hossa. The three have generated some scoring opportunities and possession, two things that were absent through some earlier games.
“He’s a big body and plays well in the offensive zone,” Toews said. “We just want to keep plays alive and have the puck a little longer and eventually things will open up. In the first number of games there, we were just one and done. We’d have maybe one chance, have the puck for 10 seconds, try to make one play, it was a turnover and we’d spend the shift in our zone. He’s a smart player; he has his head up and knows where to go. Three big bodies out there should be able to keep the pucks and eventually some things will develop offensively.”
Hossa said Tikhonov has shown his dependability.
“I think he’s the type of guy, you can rely on him coming back. He’s a good back checker,” Hossa said. “Also, he’s strong on the puck and can make some plays. The combination, we can benefit from that.”
Tikhonov has been making the most of his second go-around in the NHL. He was in the Coyotes organization from 2008-2011, spending his final season over here with the San Antonio Rampage, the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate at the time. He spent the last four seasons with SKA Saint Petersburg, where he was a top-six forward and part of the power play. He also became a teammate and friend to fellow Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin – Panarin signed with the Blackhawks in May and Tikhonov did the same in July. Tikhonov has helped Panarin learn English and has been a translator between Panarin and the coaches and media.
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But Tikhonov’s main focus here is to make the most of his NHL second chance. So far, it’s everything he hoped it would be.
“I had a little taste of it a few years back. I may have taken it for granted a little bit,” Tikhonov said. “It wasn’t easy getting there – obviously it was a tough journey. You start to relax and think, ‘Oh, you’ve made it.’ All of a sudden the next year, you’re not there anymore. So it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of hard seasons. This year I’m definitely not going to let the opportunity get away from me.”
The Blackhawks have been looking for stability, a consistent trio on that line. As of now, they may be onto something. If Tikhonov ends up on another line, he’ll take advantage of that chance in the same manner. But he’ll make the most of this top-line opportunity as long as he has it.
“Obviously this is probably one of the nicer roles to have, to be playing with those two guys,” Tikhonov said. “I’m all over the place in my game. I’ve had so many different roles the last couple of years I’m used to everything. So wherever I’m needed I’m ready to take on that role.”