It has been mentioned over the summer that Richard Panik could potentially start this year on the top line. He ended last season there, with some success. He played on both the left and right side of Toews.
In these first preseason games, Panik has lined up twice on the right side, and once on the left. While not particularly standing out, he’s been solid and consistent, and has been given a substantial amount of ice time.
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The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc recently wrote a story about Panik. In the article, he quotes what assistant coach Kevin Dineen had to say about Panik’s ability. “There’s a lot of potential there that he really hasn’t tapped into,” Dineen said. “A lot of our players smell opportunity here and are excited to try to take advantage of it. Richard is probably at the top of that list.”
I’ve slated Panik for the right side simply because that is where he’s spent the most time in these practice games. Although his natural position is that of left wing, and we all know anything could happen with Coach Q at the helm. But I would definitely watch for Panik to be an option on the first line. His experience and chemistry with Toews gives him the upper hand over some of the prospects.
Of course we certainly can’t forget about Marian Hossa. Hossa went to the finals with Team Europe in the World Cup, so he hasn’t reported for duty yet with the Chicago Blackhawks. But he should be around at some point later this week.
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Hossa saw his offensive production slump in a big way last season, leading many to believe his decline was eminent. As a matter of fact, he was demoted from the first line to the third line during last year’s playoffs against the St. Louis Blues.
But Hossa had a very strong World Cup, and his defensive contributions are as good as ever. He also has played on the right wing alongside Toews for a long time. They have a natural chemistry. Considering there might be a rookie on the left side of Toews, it might behoove the Chicago Blackhawks to stick with Hossa on the right side, at least for the beginning of the season.
There are two more preseason games, one on Tuesday and one on Saturday of this week. With Toews and Hossa coming back soon, we should get some more answers as to how the lineup will sort itself out. It will be interesting to see who will be on the top line to start the season.