Chicago Blackhawks’ Jordan Oesterle Will Be Challenged Moving Forward

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 10: Jordan Oesterle
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 10: Jordan Oesterle /

Jordan Oesterle has done has job effectively as a fill-in on the Chicago Blackhawks’ blue line, but he faces much stiffer competition today

Chicago Blackhawks fans probably weren’t expecting much out of Jordan Oesterle when he rejoined the lineup Sunday against Arizona. Coach Joel Quenneville probably wasn’t anticipating a great deal, either, as he paired Oesterle with top defenseman Duncan Keith.

Yet Oesterle came away from that game, as well as Tuesday’s against Florida, with a super-positive Corsi-for rating in 5-on-5 play. He also filled the stat sheet across both his games, with an assist, five shots on goal and four blocks. He even dipped into some special teams time against the Panthers and exceeded 20 minutes on ice in both games.

It’s nice to have a little optimism about a guy. That hasn’t happened in extended moments for the Blackhawks during this roller-coaster season. But then something happens, like Blackhawks radio play-by-play guy John Wiedeman saying he’d like to see Oesterle play 3-on-3 during overtime against Florida, and you realize optimism can quickly go a little haywire.

That’s bound to happen in a season like this, but let’s try to put everything in perspective with Oesterle ahead of a much more challenging game tonight against Winnipeg.

Oesterle purposefully sheltered

Running Oesterle out with Keith was only half the battle for Coach Q. Keith could serve as a babysitter to any actual toddler on skates and probably pull some decent shifts. Oesterle obviously did far better than that, but he had more help than just a good partner.

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Oesterle was on the ice for 11 offensive-zone faceoffs against Arizona and nine against Florida, both runner-up numbers for the team on each night (one behind Keith both times). Q was sheltering Oesterle in the offensive zone, especially against Arizona.

And that’s what should have been done. The guy had played all of four games. Even against some of the league’s worst teams, you don’t just throw out a super rusty guy (from an in-game perspective) and hope he swims in the defensive end.

But it should also be a reason to temper optimism on Oesterle. He wasn’t flipping the zone, like the Niklas HjalmarssonJohnny Oduya pairing would have back in the day. He was taking a lot of starts in the better end of the ice and making them work.

This is good, as even some defensemen still find a way to struggle with that. But then let’s add on that these games were against Arizona and Florida. Both squads are below 49 percent Corsi-for at even strength this season, so it’s no surprise Oesterle would turn in rates well above 50 percent while seeing primarily offensive-zone time.

And on top of this, Coach Q could cherry pick specific opponents for Oesterle to face, as the Blackhawks had the benefit of last change being at home both of these games.

The real positive is that Oesterle was putting shots on net, instead of just smashing the puck into shinpads or firing wide. Most of these came against Arizona (four of his five), but given the Blackhawks dominated possession that game, this is no surprise. Chicago needs more of an offensive push from the blue line, and if Oesterle can provide some of that in his return to the lineup, it should be embraced.

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Next is the real challenge

With Cody Franson now on injured reserve, Oesterle is going to get more rub in the immediate future. The next matchup is not at the United Center, though, and it’s not against a bottom-feeding opponent.

The Winnipeg Jets will welcome in the Blackhawks tonight. There will be fewer opportunities to cherry-pick matchups, and Oesterle is going to be under a lot more pressure from a physical group of Jets.

Playing alongside Keith will always help mitigate some concerns, but Oesterle’s puck management and passing abilities will be under scrutiny tonight. That’s especially true with Jan Rutta not making the trip to Winnipeg after being hurt against Florida. That could easily mean more defensive time for Keith, which would drag Oesterle along for the ride in at least some cases.

How would Oesterle fare while seeing more neutral- and defensive-zone draws against a group that has some speedy young forwards and some bruising young forwards? Winnipeg is not a great even-strength possession team (48.94 percent Corsi-for), but the Jets have proven they can score and win just fine in spite of that.

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I’m not sure if Oesterle was ever going to last in the lineup beyond a Franson return from injury, but regardless, this is a major test for him. I can understand some fawning given how weird this blue line is, but I’m hopefully fans don’t expect miracles from a guy whose seventh NHL game this season is going to be on the road against a solid-looking division foe, while the Blackhawks are missing two defensive regulars.