The Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup, specifically at forward, is more in-flux than it has ever been under coach Joel Quenneville
The Chicago Blackhawks know some of the forwards they’ll ice on opening night against the St. Louis Blues. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa and Marcus Kruger will be on the United Center’s playing surface, barring any injuries.
But after that, things are up in the air right now. Who will play on Toews’ wings on the top line? Will the second line of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane stay together? And who else is actually playing in the bottom six?
I’m here to try and answer these questions in some way. Finding good matches for Toews is certainly a pressing issue. Actually building two lines is also pretty important. This is especially true for a Blackhawks team that got little bottom-six scoring last season.
So what do we make of all the potential faces who could wear the Indian Head on Oct. 12?
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Starting at the top
Let’s start with a list of names of those still around this preseason, those who could potentially be on the opening night roster and who weren’t named above.
Alright, that’s a starting point. So let’s say the second line of Panarin-Anisimov-Kane does indeed stay together, at least for opening night. And let’s also say coach Joel Quenneville feels most comfortable using Hossa on Toews’ right wing for at least this first game. And let’s add to that Kruger slotted to center the third line, which has been widely discussed.
So that puts us here:
At least it’s a starting point. From here, let’s start by filling the top-line left wing spot. The natural left wings on the roster (AKA the guys listed at that position) are Desjardins, Fortin, Mashinter and Panik. Not the most awesome crop.
Desjardins and Mashinter are immediately out from that discussion. Panik has been widely brought up as a top-line option, but I get the feeling Q would rather let Panik try to slay bums in the bottom six. And while Fortin was seeing action with Anisimov and Kane on Tuesday, I’m not sure how comfortable Q would be rolling him out on the first line against a rugged St. Louis outfit.
So let’s go outside the listed-position box. The two guys I most easily get to are Schmaltz and Hartman. Now Schmaltz is clearly the more talented playmaker, and a guy who has seen action on the various wings throughout this preseason. Hartman is more in the mold of Andrew Shaw, who occupied the top-line left wing spot throughout the 2015-16 season.
I’m going to go with Schmaltz on the opening night roster for top-line left wing. I think Q has been impressed with what he’s seen from Schmaltz and would like to put some speed and playmaking ability up with Toews while Hossa occupies a slightly more defensive-minded forward role (though it’s not like he can’t finish scoring chances, too).