Blackhawks

Who goes where? Quenneville is already plotting the options

Who goes where? Quenneville is already plotting the options

For hockey coaches, thinking the game never really stops. With the Blackhawks likely not to make many more changes, at least among the forwards, coach Joel Quenneville is already thinking about line combinations, especially with those top two lines.

“You’ve got [Nick Schmaltz] who can play center or can play wing. [Artem Anisimov] in the middle, he can play with [Patrick Kane] so you’ve got some options there. With [Patrick Sharp] coming back and [Brandon Saad] coming back you’ve got some looks up front, some continuity from history and reacquainted again with [Jonathan Toews] and Saader on the the line,” Quenneville said. “And Sharpie and Kaner is a possibility.”

Yeah, there are a few options, some of which changed after the Blackhawks re-acquired Sharp on July 1. How it all turns out come early October is still to be decided but players are ready to move up, down, to center or wing if necessary.

“I think about a lot of different possibilities with the Hawks lineup,” Sharp said at the Blackhawks convention on Friday. “Playing for Joel for as long as I have in the past, I know that combinations can get moved around quite a bit depending on the game, depending on the time of year and the way different guys are playing. That’s something I’m prepared for and something I’m looking forward to, as well. I had my best years playing for Coach Q, and I know wherever he puts me in the lineup is probably going to be best for me and for the team, as well.”

OK, but the possibility of playing with Kane again has to be enticing for Sharp, even if he doesn’t want to say so. Past chemistry, past success, for a team that’s still working in younger players and will look to avoid the constant line shuffling of the past two years, those things matter.

When Quenneville talked at the NHL Draft in late June, he said Schmaltz would likely get first crack at the second-line left-wing vacancy. But with Sharp’s return, coupled with no Dennis Rasmussen (not qualified) and no Marcus Kruger (traded to Vegas and then to Carolina), the Blackhawks may need Schmaltz more at center. Schmaltz liked the instant chemistry he had with Kane last season but that was at center, his more natural spot, and he’s fine going back there if necessary.

While the top line should stabilize with Saad’s return, the second line could be the one trying to figure things out at left wing this season. Artem Anisimov was “shocked and surprised” when Panarin was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in June, but knows it’s a business and that adjustments will have to be made.

“I’m prepared for anything to come my way. I’ll try to work with anybody, coach Q puts on the left side,” he said. “We’ll work out what the best [combination] is going to be and the three of us will just go and play.”

“Every day you write down different combinations. You look at probability, the likelihood of who will be compatible with who,” Quenneville said. “So I think it will be fun trying to go through that process, not just on paper, but when you get them together and out there playing. We certainly have a lot of options up front.”

Blackhawks’ depth could be key as roster becomes clearer

Blackhawks’ depth could be key as roster becomes clearer

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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Blackhawks announce second round of roster cuts

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USA Today

Blackhawks announce second round of roster cuts

After making a first wave of roster cuts to pare their roster down from 55 to 49, the Blackhawks announced a more significant second round Saturday afternoon.

Per the team, forwards Dylan Sikura, Matthew Highmore, Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev, Mikael Hakkarainen, Alexandre Fortin, Reese Johnson, MacKenzie Entwistle, defensemen Nicolas Beaudin, Joni Tuulola, Lucas Carlsson and goaltender Matt Tomkins have all been assigned to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

The Blackhawks roster now consists of 33 players: 18 forwards, 11 defensemen and four goaltenders. 

The news comes just hours before the Blackhawks square off with the Bruins in the team's fourth game of the preseason Saturday night.

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