NHL opening night lineups tend to contain at least one surprise, and the Chicago Blackhawks’ initial lineups in the last five seasons are no exception
For every Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford in an NHL opening night lineup, the decisions made by the league’s coaches aren’t always so straightforward. Chicago Blackhawks fans know this when it comes to coach Joel Quenneville.
Guys can surprise in training camp. Or an injury can befall a player who was locked into the opening night roster, necessitating a change. It’s rare to find an opening night lineup that doesn’t contain at least one name you weren’t expecting on seeing.
With September upon us — and, therefore, training camp rapidly approaching — we’re going to take a look at the biggest opening night lineup surprise each of the last five seasons. For the record, I’m only going to count guys who actually skated in the first game of each of these campaigns.
2016-17: Tyler Motte
I would say Richard Panik having the Blackhawks’ first goal of the season in this game was more surprising than Motte getting ice time against the St. Louis Blues. But Motte certainly wasn’t a lock to make the regular-season roster right off the bat, either.
Motte and Nick Schmaltz were the darlings of 2016 training camp, expected to vie for playing time at some point in the season. Both were given immediate chances at that. For Schmaltz, this wasn’t terribly surprising. For Motte, it wasn’t quite as expected.
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What made it even more surprising was what happened with Motte after this. He wound up playing just 33 NHL games on the season before being sent to Rockford. Schmaltz was also sent to the AHL at one point, but he was brought back up.
Motte, instead, was dealt to Columbus this offseason in the Brandon Saad–Artemi Panarin deal. Meanwhile, guys like Dennis Rasmussen (68 games) and Tanner Kero (47) were not in the opening night lineup, but wound up playing many more games than Motte in 2016-17.
Motte may not have been quite ready for the big show when last season began. Fans seemed more hopeful about possible quick progress than anything. For that, and for how things played out afterward, Motte was the surprise of last season.
2015-16: Kyle Baun
He just wasn’t ready. The three games he saw at the end of the 2014-15 regular season didn’t prove to anyone — except Coach Q and his staff, apparently — that Baun deserved a spot in the opening night lineup not long after another Stanley Cup parade.
Baun was summarily blitzed and exposed in just two NHL games to start the 2015-16 season. He was then sent to the AHL and has not sniffed the bright lights of the NHL since.
I suppose I could have put David Rundblad in this spot, but it’s not as though the Blackhawks had any remarkably better defensemen they could have plugged into his spot in the opening night lineup. They were using him instead of the likes of Viktor Svedberg, Erik Gustafsson and Michal Rozsival. Not much to talk about there.
2014-15: Jeremy Morin
Fun-ish fact: This is the most recent season in which the Blackhawks won their opening night game (3-2 shootout over Dallas), and I was in attendance. Someone get me a ticket to every opening night game from here on out.
But back to the point of this post. There are two names that stick out like sore thumbs from this game against the Stars — that of Morin, and Daniel Carcillo. (Rundblad showed up here again as well, but the Blackhawks were also in plug-and-try mode with their defense at this point.)
Few were surprised Carcillo was in the lineup. He was brought back to the team because Q already missed Brandon Bollig. Morin, though? Q had already shown a distinct lack of trust in the forward. It’s very odd to see that he made this opening night lineup.
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And then it becomes just sad when you consider Teuvo Teravainen was not in this lineup. The Blackhawks decided 4:43 of Carcillo and 5:32 of Morin was better than anything Teravainen could offer at that time. Sounds about right.
But I at least remember Carcillo being in the lineup that night. Morin? If you had told me before I researched this that he was playing for Chicago that night, I’m not sure I would have believed it.
2013-14: Joakim Nordstrom
Remember how I used the term “surprising” earlier to describe Panik scoring the first Chicago goal of the 2016-17 season? Just remember Bollig had the team’s first tally in this campaign.
But, like with Carcillo, the fact Q wanted a “tough guy” like Bollig in the opening night lineup was far from a surprise. I could have gone with Jimmy Hayes here, but he at least had some NHL experience before the opener this season against Washington.
Nordstrom was making his NHL debut in this game, though. And he beat into the lineup highly-touted guys like Morin (this was before things fell apart) and Brandon Pirri to do so.
He was a small guy who offered … bottom-six grit? It was strange the Blackhawks felt the need to turn to Nordstrom to start this season with supposedly more-talented forward options in Morin and Pirri also available.
Nordstrom wound up playing in 16 games during this season. Then he rapped with Kris Versteeg at the 2015 Cup parade and was (probably) traded to Carolina as a result.
2013: Brandon Bollig
The opening night lineup in the most recent lockout-shortened season is an interesting entry on this list. Names up for debate on a “biggest surprise” basis would be Bollig, Carcillo and Sheldon Brookbank. The last of those three could really only be replaced by Rozsival, so he’s out of the discussion.
That leaves the two “bruisers.” Carcillo was by far the more veteran of the two at this point, so why did the Blackhawks feel the need to add an “apprentice” for Carcillo in the form of Bollig on opening night?
Yeah, they were facing a heavier-hitting Los Angeles Kings team. But they also didn’t have the benefit of last change, so why start two guys who were going to play less than 11 minutes? (Carcillo at least cracked 10; Bollig didn’t hit six.)
Guys like Saad, Pirri and Ben Smith were ready and (I’d assume) willing to provide anything from a lot of talent to a semblance of it. Instead, we got the start of the extended Bollig tenure for … reasons? Seems plenty surprising, and confusing, to me.