Possible Line Combinations: Bottom 6
The Hawks wrap up their Traverse City Rookie Tournament with a 4th place finish after a 3-2 loss to Minnesota.
The reigning Champs end with a 2-2 record and watched Columbus take their crown as they pumped Detroit 7-3 last night.
It was an up-and-down tournament for the baby Hawks and hard to judge too much in a quick tournament like this, but overall there were some strong showings.
This Friday, the Blackhawks open their NHL training camp begins with a practice and we'll see if rookies like Sikura, Ejdsell, Fortin, Kahun, Jokiharju, Beaudin, etc. can build off this tournament.
It's exciting to have hockey in the air again as I know most fans are anxious as to what this team actually is come October. Well, we'll find out some details as the Hawks kick off and move through their training camp schedule.
All roster and details and scheduling can be found on the Blackhawks official site.
The only PTO invited out at this time is Brandon Davidson. I had heard they were looking at some forwards (primarily centre) but looks like Stan Bowman appears to be ready to triple down on this group. I don't expect much movement from here until, well Christmas with bringing in any outside players.
Now, moving on to the 2nd edition of "Possible Line Combinations". Today, we examine the bottom 6.
There are so many options that could play out to start the year. And yes, it goes without saying that Coach Q will turn his blender up and we could have 20-something different combinations in October alone.
While I pointed out in the last blog that the Hawks are short 1 top 6 forward, they have no shortage of bottom 6-ers. The question is, can this group find some early chemistry and be a real impact in providing scoring depth, as well as playing really strong defence.
That's what the Hawks are going to need to be successful this year. Let's see what we're working with:
This is the bottom 6 that I have identified as the most likely lines.
In Anisimov, I would say it's as close to a sure thing that he is going to be the Hawks 3rd line centre. That's not a bad thing at all. To be honest, there are a lot worse 3rd line C out there.
AA has shown that he can play a 200-foot game and play well with skilled players as he drives the net. He's scored 20+ goals in 4 of his last 5 years and if given power play time, there's no reason he can't get close to that again.
Everyone knows Dominik Kahun has a European out clause in his contract, meaning if he doesn't make the team, he can head back to Germany.
I think the Hawks were banking on his making the team based on speed and skill vs. having him on the opening 23-man active roster… "just because".
Kahun and Sikura played well together (along with Fortin) in the recent rookie tournament. They were the top line and played all 4 games together and I think it was by design. Look for them to build off of that chemistry and form a strong 3rd line with AA.
The K3 line has the makings of being that pain in the a** line that opposing teams hate to play against. This wouldn't be because they're big and scary, but because Kunitz, Kruger and Kampf all have really high-motor, strong 2-way games.
First off, let's just break down how Chris Kunitz was used in Tampa Bay last year. He primarily played with Callahan and Paquette and, in the games I watched, were that relentless line that was able to score the odd goal. Hey, if Kunitz can net 13 goals again, that would a welcomed sight. With that total, he would have been 7th on the Hawks last year in goals.
His 131 hits would have been 4th on CHI as well. It would be nice to spread that physical play out by having him and Hayden on separate lines (Hayden had 118 hits in just 47 games).
Kunitz was also deployed as a defensive specialist having the 6th highest defensive zone start % for forwards on TB.
Another important element to this line would be to use Kruger or Kampf at the dot as both have proven to be solid on draws. Kampf's sample size is smaller, but I think he can get even better than his 53% (over 549 FO).
… or maybe Coach Q decides to keep those 250 hits between Kunitz and Hayden on a line and create a new BANGER line (although Anisimov won't contribute much).
This line would drive have to the net and create havoc in front of any goalie they face.
While Hayden only took 24 draws last year (50%), he's a righty and could step in on his strong side for the lackluster faceoff man, Anisimov. Hayden couldn't do any worse, could he?
You might disagree with Martinsen sneaking into the lineup on a consistent basis, however, it was interesting to see how he was utilized last year.
The 28-year old Norwegian had the highest defensive zone starts at 59.3 last year of ANY Blackhawks player. Albeit it was only a 9-game sample, but it's telling that Q and Co. wanted him starting in front of their goalie more times than not.
Martinsen had a 52.4 CF% as well, so he was keeping his head above water after starting so many of those plays helping break out of the zone.
We know Coach Q loves to have that go-to "shutdown line" and a formation of Martinsen-Kruger-Kampf could be a sneaky good one.
Victor Ejdsell makes an appearance in the blog (yay!).
He was a much talked about player on the message boards and internets this last week with his performance at the rookie camp.
Can he make the team? Will he be in the top 6 or bottom 6? Well, he, Sikura and Hayden were the only 3 to make it into both blogs so clearly, I have no idea where to slot him in either.
His training camp could determine a lot for him.
You may think a line with him and Anisimov will be too slow, and you might be right. They could also work really well off each other if they can get into the offensive zone and protect the puck. David Kampf is strong along the boards as well, so this line was formed to be a cycle line. Then get Ejdsell the puck to fire on net while AA and Kampf crash.
Kunitz-Kruger-Hayden is a lot of people's 4th line and I think it would be a good one as well. As mentioned above, Kunitz and Hayden have the physical presence, while Krugers heady 2-way game balance it out. They could even score a few goals along the way (and by "they", I mean Kunitz and Hayden… sorry Krugs).
Option 4 (BONUS):
I needed to get my game Matthew Highmore in here as well, so I've created a BONUS bottom 6.
Highmore has a legit shot at making this team out of camp. For the concerns that people have with Ejdsell's skating, that's not the issues with Highmore.
So, if the coaching staff craves speed (which they should), that works best in Highmore's favour (placed 2nd in the fastest skater competition in the AHL).
Highmore-Kruger-Hayden could form a really nice 4th line.
Meanwhile, I cruised over the fact that this is the first combinations where AA isn't the 3rd line centre. I have him in the top 6 as a LW. I don't think it will happen, but if Kahun thoroughly impresses in pre-season as a centre, they may be forced to make some positional decisions.
Thoughts? Who is in your bottom 6?
Next up, I will deviate for a second from this series and take a look at the Blackhawks training camp storylines to watch.
See ya out there!