Blackhawks

Why Kane-Panarin split might be necessary for Blackhawks

Why Kane-Panarin split might be necessary for Blackhawks

Patrick Kane was in a rare situation last season, playing with linemates Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov for practically the entire season. His chemistry with Panarin was especially noticeable.

Now Kane and Panarin might be separated because the Blackhawks need more than one line to work this season. Asked about that potential split on Saturday night, Kane’s answer was diplomatic.

“Last year, I think, is probably the one year that I really only played with a couple players, so I'm used to playing all over the place, playing with different guys,” Kane said. “We'll see what happens. I know they wanted to try something different for the game tonight and maybe throughout preseason, so I'll just play where they tell me to play, I guess.”

We don’t know what will happen if Kane and Panarin are split for a decent amount of time, but we certainly know what they can do when they’re together. We got a reminder of that on Saturday night when, put together again after a penalty kill, Kane hit Panarin with a perfect backhand pass. Panarin finished with a slick slap shot, snapping the Blackhawks’ preseason scoreless streak.

But here’s what we have to remember with all of this: If the split happens it’s not because coach Joel Quenneville wants to do it. It’s because right now, he has to do it. The Blackhawks’ depth at forward is thin, the thinnest it’s been in quite some time. Need a reminder of how depleted it is? Here are some of the forwards who were here last year who are now gone: Teuvo Teravainen, Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Marko Dano and Phillip Danault. You can also add Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann — all acquired around the trade deadline — if you’d like.

Yeah.

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The second line’s chemistry last season was beyond impressive. It worked, almost automatically; and thanks in large part to that line’s production and Corey Crawford’s goaltending, the Blackhawks put together a nice regular season. But one line does not a team make. The team wasn’t even close to getting that usual four-line rotation going last season, and if you don’t have that, you’re not going far.

Most attempts at finding Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa a top-line left wing failed. Quenneville is trying to spread the wealth, trying to give Toews that left wing, trying to make the most of what little depth he has. Panarin, who did play a few times with Toews last season, understands it might be necessary.

“Obviously I’m ready to play with anyone. That’s my role,” Panarin said through translator Igor Alfimov. “I played with Kane more last season, that’s why — that’s my experience. But I’m ready to play with anyone.”

But for grins, let’s look at another option: Could Tyler Motte emerge as a potential top-line left wing? The 21-year-old, who scored two goals in Saturday’s game, has been the best forward prospect in training camp thus far. He’s smart, he’s poised and he’s strong on the penalty kill. Quenneville loved what he saw out of Motte, and a Motte-Toews-Hossa combination would be worth a look. (Yes, we know Hossa could end up on that third line with Marcus Kruger again, but at the start it seems best he join Toews).

And Quenneville knows even if Kane and Panarin aren’t linemates, they won’t be completely separated.

“Over the course of a season you know they’ll be together at times. But that’s something that’s going to get sorted out,” Quenneville said. “The chemistry among the two of them is special. They’ll always (have) some shifts together. Whether (or not) they will be permanently together is something we’ll evaluate.”

Kane and Panarin formed a productive duo. You know what you get when they’re together. Breaking them up isn’t the most welcome move, but right now it might be a necessary one.

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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