As the Chicago Blackhawks prepare for their 2013 training camp, which kicks off Thursday morning in South Bend, Ind., Madhouse Enforcer is reviewing three of the biggest questions that the team will hope to answer before the regular season starts next month.
Today's question is this: who will replace Michael Frolik on the team's top penalty killing line?
If a person were to try to make a list of the biggest surprises from the 2013 Blackhawks season, there are quite a few contenders for the top spot.
The first of those would be the resurgence of Ray Emery, who pushed goaltender Corey Crawford all season long as the two battled for the starting job. Beyond that story though, perhaps the biggest shocker of the year was the excellent play of the Hawks' penalty killing unit, and more specifically, the guys who were behind its success.
Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik weren't exactly the top guys on the minds of Hawks fans when they would think about who could kill penalties for the team, but that's exactly what they did. Blending an aggressive attacking style with an acute ice awareness, the duo helped the Hawks to be one of the best penalty killing teams in the league, and rode that success all through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
During the offseason, however, the Hawks had to part with Frolik because of the need to scratch out a little bit of extra salary cap room to bring players like Michal Rozsival, Nick Leddy, and Kruger
himself back into the fold for the 2013-14 campaign. The move took many fans by surprise, but now that the initial shock has worn off, the question can be more thoroughly examined: who will replace Frolik on that top penalty killing unit?
At the moment, it seems as though the competition is pretty open, but one player whose name keeps coming up is Ben Smith. The youngster has bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL several times, including one notable stint with the big club back in 2011 that culminated with a
solid playoff performance against the Vancouver Canucks. He is a player who is both capable of excelling offensively and staying disciplined on the defensive side of the ice, and seems like he'd be an ideal fit for what head coach Joel Quenneville and his coaching staff want to do on the penalty killing unit.
If Smith doesn't stick with the roster coming out of training camp, there are a few other players that are worthy of consideration. Andrew Shaw is one that immediately comes to mind, both for his gritty and selfless style of play and his underrated defensive awareness. He could be a great compliment to Kruger in that area, and his physicality is a bonus too.
The other player who could vie for the spot would be Brandon Saad. He is likely going to start the season on either the second or third line for the Hawks, and joining the penalty killing unit could be just the ticket for him to get increased playing time. He did play limited PK minutes during the
postseason last year, and had a shorthanded goal during the Cup Final against the Boston Bruins to his credit.