Viktor Tikhonov finding his niche on Blackhawks' top line


Viktor Tikhonov finding his niche on Blackhawks' top line

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.

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“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.”

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.