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.
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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.