The Chicago Blackhawks have missed one of their bottom-six forwards for the regular-season’s first 12 games
Andrew Desjardins‘ injury late in the preseason wasn’t viewed with much worry from the Chicago Blackhawks’ fan base. The team had young forwards who were looking good in training camp, so Desjardins’ absence probably wouldn’t be that pronounced.
Then, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill got off to a retched start. Perhaps it’s no coincidence Desjardins has been a regular part of that unit in the past.
While the PK has improved over the last three to four games, Desjardins’ return to the lineup tonight against Dallas is still going to pay dividends from a defensive-forward perspective.
Desjardins brings specific talents
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When the Blackhawks acquired Desjardins from the San Jose Sharks in 2015 for fan favorite Ben Smith, both fan bases seemed unhappy with the move. Blackhawks fans were a bit confused by this, as Desjardins appeared to be more of a grunt than anything.
But it turns out that’s what the Blackhawks needed. Unlike some forwards who have been brought onto the roster simply to be “gritty,” Desjardins was a perfect addition to the Blackhawks’ defensive third line.
It didn’t really become clear until that year’s postseason, when Desjardins teamed with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw to shut down some of the league’s better forwards. But after that, it became clear Desjardins was important from a defensive forward perspective.
That also included Desjardins having a role on the penalty kill. While the kill’s 80.3 success rate in the 2015-16 season wasn’t particularly great, that mark is infinitely better than the 64.3 percent mark Chicago has turned in thus far this season.
Stats don’t lie
Desjardins in the last two regular seasons with Chicago started in the defensive zone on 67.8 and 72.9 percent of his shifts. Yet he posted possession marks of 55.5 and 49.7. Desjardins frequent playing partner Kruger are really good at flipping the ice for Chicago.
This is something the team needs right now, especially with a lot of young forwards on the bottom six for whom puck possession may be a bit of an issue.
It’s not immediately clear, however, how the Blackhawks plan to incorporate Desjardins into the lineup. Kruger’s work with Ryan Hartman and Tyler Motte has been generally good, but maybe Desjardins slots in on the left of Kruger and Hartman moves down to the fourth-line left wing. Dennis Rasmussen could center that line (he’s been playing on its wing). That would leave Jordin Tootoo and Nick Schmaltz for the right wing spot.
Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk was placed on injured reserve due to an injury, so the Blackhawks don’t have to worry about sending someone down (AKA Vincent Hinostroza) in order to add Desjardins back to the lineup.
Desjardins may not be an amazing offensive producer, though he pushed out a fine 13 points last season. But he can push the puck the correct direction after being placed in difficult situations. On a still-developing bottom six, this should provide some much-needed stability.