As the NHL descends deeper into its dog days of summer, the taste for analysis of various players and their potential seems to take a nosedive along with the amount of hard news stories in the league.
Fortunately for fans, NHL.com still churns out solid content to drive discussion, and they had an interesting post on Monday afternoon. In the piece, columnist John Kreiser discussed various players who will be looking to prove that their breakout seasons weren’t flukes, and the very first player he discusses is Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickell.
Here is what he had to say about one of the breakout stars of the Stanley Cup playoffs:
“Bickell was every bit as surprising during the Stanley Cup playoffs as (Sergei) Bobrovsky was during the regular season. After scoring nine goals in 48 regular season games for the Blackhawks, he matched that total in 25 games during the playoffs. The last one game with 1:16 left in regulation of Game 6 in the Final and tied the score 2-2; Dave Bolland’s goal 17 seconds later gave the Blackhawks the Cup. The Blackhawks made a long-term commitment to Bickell this summer; now he has to prove he’s ready to step into a more substantial role.”
The article didn’t get into more detail about whether or not Bickell would be able to replicate those feats in the coming regular season, but there is evidence on both sides of the ledger as to what fans can expect from Bickell.
On the positive side, there’s the fact that he is likely to start the season on the top line with center Jonathan Toews and winger Patrick Kane. Having that kind of star power on the ice can make life significantly easier for a player, and the trio complements one another perfectly. Kane has a great awareness of whether to use his precision passing to set up teammates or to fire a finely tuned wrist shot toward the goal. Toews is responsible defensively and allows his wingers to roam freely on the ice, and also gets to the front of the net to create screens and potential rebound opportunities. Finally, Bickell does his own work in the traffic department, and can also use his physical edge to create space for the speedy Kane in the neutral and offensive zones.
The other positive about Bickell is that he is capable of fitting into various line combinations on the team. Last season, he excelled with Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw on the third line for a good chunk of the season. Stalberg has since moved on to yellower pastures in Nashville, but Shaw will likely continue in his role as a third liner (although a promotion to the second line isn’t out of the question), so it gives head coach Joel Quennneville another slot to put Bickell into.
There are a couple of reasons for skepticism as well. For starters, Bickell’s health going into the season will be a question mark, as he is recovering from a knee injury that hampered him during the team’s Stanley Cup run. It was only a sprain, which normally carries a recovery time of around a month, but it certainly will be enough to put Bickell behind a bit in his offseason conditioning, so it will be interesting to see how ready he is when training camp begins in a little over six weeks.
The other variable is whether or not Bickell has moved past his penchant for varying levels of intensity on the ice. He has gotten into Quenneville’s dog house on a few occasions because of this, and even though he played at a high level throughout the lockout shortened 2013 campaign, there is still the potential that he could revert back to his old habits.
If pressed for an answer on the question, one would have to say that the odds are slightly in favor of Bickell continuing his solid two-way play, and a season of between 45 and 50 points is a reasonable expectation if he can stay healthy.
What’s your take, Hawks fans? Will Bickell have a quality follow-up to his 2013 breakout, or will he be a one-hit wonder?