The Chicago Blackhawks have hit the ice for their first workouts of the preseason at the University of Notre Dame, and with training camp beginning, we are taking a look at the five storylines that fans should keep an eye on as camp begins.
Today we continue that countdown with a question of line composition, as we examine what the team’s second line is going to look like.
Over the past few years, the Blackhawks have been rotating through second line centers and wingers like crazy. Eventually the team hit on an interesting formula during the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings, pairing up Patrick Kane with Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw. The line ended up being a dominant one, scoring a slew of goals and coming within one overtime goal of bringing the Hawks to a second straight Stanley Cup Final.
While that line isn’t going to be fully intact when the regular season starts, they arguably have an upgrade at the center position. After years of trying everyone from Kane to Handzus to Dave Bolland to Marcus Kruger in the center spot on the second line, the Hawks were able to ink veteran center Brad Richards to a 1-year deal, and he will likely slot in between Kane and Saad to begin the season.
Early on in training camp, the trio is already showing some positive results. In their first scrimmage on Friday morning, Kane scored two goals, with Richards and Saad each feeding him passes across the zone to set up the tallies. Kane has spoken highly of the group’s chemistry, and Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune had another interesting factoid about how the group is bonding:
Patrick Kane and Brad Richards live in the same building in Chicago. They have car-pooled to workouts. Kane does the driving. #Blackhawks
— Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) September 19, 2014
The thought of having Richards, who is a tremendous facilitator at both even strength and on the power play, skating with two dynamic forwards like Saad and Kane is a happy one for Hawks fans. Kane is the guy who usually brings the puck up the ice, but when he has linemates like Saad, it simply gives him more space with which to work. His passing ability is something teams have to actively defend against, but if they give him too much room to block passing lanes, then his wrist shot is arguably the most accurate on the team.
With Saad, speed is the name of the game, and he is also blossoming as a defensive forward too. That ability gives the line an added dimension, and it really makes the group hard to gameplan against. Strictly defensive lines can be avoided, but when you have a line that has the blend of speed and aggressive forechecking that this line could, then teams are going to have to be careful when sending out their top groups against them.
Between Saad’s two-way ability and Kane’s ice vision, the wings on this line could make it an absolute monster. Adding Richards to the mix only enhances the skill of both wingers, and if this group can continue to gel like they have so far, then the Blackhawks’ offense could hit a new level in the new season.