Oct 11, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Ben Smith (center) attempts to tip a shot with New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen (left) defending and goalie Kevin Poulin (right) making a save during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The Blackhawks have found early on that defending their title won’t be easy. Just because they kept most of their players doesn’t mean that all of them will be slotted in the same positions. Handzus is a perfect example of that. Most people expected Pirri to take over as second line center, but Bowman re-signed Zus and put him back on the second line. Then all of a sudden Zus is injured, and Pirri takes up the role of second line center. The IceHogs have had their chances to show what they have to offer, and some are making more of it than others.
Brandon Pirri: 11 GP, 6 Points, 3 Goals, 3 Assists, +3 +/-
Ben Smith: 9 GP, 4 Points, 2 Goals, 2 Assists, +3 +/-
Jeremy Morin: 5 GP, 2 Points, 0 Goals, 2 Assists, +1 +/-
Brandon Pirri has had the most opportunity to play out of all the IceHogs. He’s averaging the most ice time of all the Rockford guys with 11:40. At the dot, Pirri isn’t exactly lighting up his opponents. He has the team low of 41%, and I think everyone was hoping for better than Bolland numbers. Q talks a lot about play off the puck, and it looks like Pirri is lacking a little in that department. He has 4 hits and 4 blocked shots in 11 games, which isn’t terrible, but his fellow Hogs are doing a bit more with less time. Pirri is doing well to play the Hawks 2-way style with 3 takeaways and only 1 giveaway. Overall, Pirri looks like he could do some damage in between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad if he stays with the Blackhawks.
Ben Smith had to deal with some high expectations coming into this season. After a great playoff performance against Vancouver in 2011, he missed out on some prime opportunities to make the team due to injury. Nine games into his stint with the Hawks, and Smith has 4 points. He’s averaging 9:58 ice time, and he’s using that time effectively. He is converting on 20% of his shots. While that number isn’t sustainable, it is a strong showing. On top of his offensive contributions, Smith has 8 blocked shots and 2 hits. Smith also has 5 takeaways and not a single giveaway. He doesn’t seem to have the flash that was expected, but Smith is playing well and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of him on the wing.
Jeremy Morin hasn’t exactly been given the best chances by Q this season. His ice time has fluctuated a lot, but he has averaged 9:15 of ice time in 5 games. Of the three Hogs, Morin has been the most physical with 7 hits. Adversely, he has no blocked shots. Q wants his team to be willing to sacrifice and that might explain (not really) why Q dressed Brookbank over Morin. It’s not all bad for Morin when it comes to plays off the puck. Morin has 3 takeaways and hasn’t given away the puck, again fitting into the Hawks style. Everyone got to see Morin’s ability to fire the puck last season, but he hasn’t been able to put the puck away just yet.
All three of these youngsters bring a unique style of play to the Hawks. Smith and Pirri seem to be more in tune with the style of play the Hawks want and expect from their players. Morin shows a lot of raw offensive potential, and if he could work a little more on his off the puck play, Morin could really sway some opinions. Who do you think the Blackhawks should dedicate a roster spot to?