The Blackhawks, who currently reside in the second spot in the Central Division standings through 10 games, will play the Predators for the second time already this season, and their new lineup will hope that they can generate more offense than they were able to in the first meeting.
On Thursday, head coach Joel Quenneville revealed that Alex DeBrincat had been elevated to the team’s top line, where he will skate with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. The rookie winger, who has one goal and three assists this season, will look to spark an offense that has struggled at times in recent games.
“I just want to contribute,” DeBrincat said after the team’s morning skate. “I want to try to generate some offense, and get some energy. I think I just need to get the puck and let them do the work.”
DeBrincat’s ascension means that the Blackhawks will drop Richard Panik to the second line, where he will skate with Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz. Panik, who has said in the past that he prefers to play on the right side of the ice, will instead skate at left wing with the second line, and will be tasked with getting to the front of the net and creating traffic so that Kane and Schmaltz have some room to operate in the slot.
John Hayden also was promoted, where he will play on the third line, and Ryan Hartman has been dropped to the fourth line, where he’ll likely play a more defensive-minded role alongside Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma.
Here is the full lineup:
Saad – Toews – DeBrincat
Panik – Schmaltz – Kane
Sharp – Anisimov – Hayden
Bouma – Wingels – Hartman
Simply put, the Blackhawks haven’t had the puck enough in recent games, and that was especially true against the Vegas Golden Knights. They were routinely put on the back foot by the aggressive attacking style of the Knights, and Quenneville’s lineup changes are reflective of his desire for the team to play with more speed and to put more pressure on puck carriers in the neutral and offensive zones.
To achieve that, DeBrincat and Kane are going to be a key on the top two lines. Kane is fantastic with the puck, giving his teammates ample space and holding onto the puck even under serious duress. The big question here is whether or not DeBrincat will be able to do the same thing, but having defensively-responsible players like Saad and Toews should give him opportunities to be creative with the puck.