The NHL offseason continues. Prospect Camp has come and gone. Teams continue to look into upgrades and improvements via trade or the dwindling free agency market.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, this has meant searching for a second line center. Well, let’s re-phrase that. It’s more like discussing the correct approach of whom the team needs at the second line center position, while signing players to fill other roles.
For the better part of the past two seasons, the depth at center on the big league club has shown its fragility. It’s also been a bit of a revolving door. It’s a frustration, from this fan’s perspective, that something as seemingly innocuous as putting together a second line can’t be accomplished with the depth of talent on the Hawks.
Judging the Hawks most recent picks in previous years’ drafts, there’s little doubt the front office has recognized center as an issue. Four players from the past three drafts taken in the first round have been center or center-able. Kevin Hayes was 24th in the 2010 draft, followed by Mark McNeill and Philip Danault taken in 2011 18th and 26th, respectively. Teuvo Teravainen, the first round selection of this year, has spent time at both wing and center, but judging from his duties at camp, it appears center is where he’s going to be.
So, what’s the problem? Having four players drafted and on their way up within the organization isn’t something to ignore. The issue is just that: they’re on their way up. It’s anybody’s guess who would be ready first and/or who could handle the role well.
With the NHL geared up for tense NHLPA negotiations and the uncertainty of where the salary cap will stand on a yearly basis, it’s important for teams to have a strong farm system. To depend on a free agency market or big splash trades during the offseason is likely to be the undoing of a team. Having young players coming up through your ranks, learning the system, working with your team’s coaches and future players is significant in that there are no surprises. Look no further than Columbus last season after the deals they made.
What of 2012-2013?
Taking into account the free agency market getting smaller and with it, the quality of player to choose from, it appears the Hawks will have another season of Patrick Kane and/or Marcus Kruger in the center role. I’m not here to convince anyone that either is the right player for the job. All I’m saying is that Kane is clearly capable of handling those duties.
A lot of the uncertainty is due in part to Kane and Kruger’s lack of size. This is one of those damning qualities you hear more during the draft. Yet, time and time again you see teams willing to take chances on a smaller player because they’re just so skilled at the game.
Kane is one of those players. Off-ice issues aside, every year his hockey has matured. Looking at video from his rookie campaign through last season, not only has he put on size physically, but his game has grown. He doesn’t plead with referees for penalties to be called, his playmaking and ice awareness are nifty and tuned and he’s become one of the more dangerous shootout opponents in the game.
If there is one argument to be listened to, it might be Kane’s drop-off in scoring last season. In 2010-2011, he scored 73 points (27 G, 46 A) and had 216 shots on goal. In 2011-2012, his points total capped off at 66 (23 G, 43 A). Yet, he had 253 shots on goal. Granted, he played in nine more games last season, appearing in all 82, but his hesitance early in the season showed me his wrist may not have been near 100%. In the end, if Kane’s bad years are 66 points in 80-82 games and helping the team reach 100+ points on the season, I’ll take that.
It may not be a fan favorite, but expect to see Kane at the dot for the duration of the season. However, expect him have a better season in points as well as performance at center.
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