The Chicago Blackhawks are playing in their third straight Western Conference Final. There have been a number of reasons for their recent success, but this year seems a little different. This year’s team has been extremely strong down the middle. After some off-season and trade-deadline moves, the ‘Hawks have put together one of their deepest teams at the center position. Here is a look at the players that give the Blackhawks an extra edge over their opponents.
There is no denying that Toews is a world-class player, and much is expected from him. In the postseason, Toews has delivered. The former Conn Smythe winner has exceptional two-way ability that is almost unmatched. So far, the undisputed leader of this franchise has made a huge impact on the ice. He is tied for fifth in the league with 11 points and his 115 face-off wins is good for sixth. After signing his extension earlier this year, the Captain has not disappointed.
After being bought-out by the New York Rangers last summer, Richards decided he wanted to play somewhere he could win right away. Naturally, Chicago seemed like a great fit. The Blackhawks have long searched for a second line center, and Richards has filled that void during the season and in the playoffs. Like Toews, Richards is a former Conn Smythe winner as well, when he led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 2004 Stanley Cup. His veteran presence has contributed much to the current run.
A trade-deadline acquisition, Vermette started out rather slowly for the Blackhawks. The eleven-year veteran started off with only three assists in his first 19 games, and had many people questioning the acquisition. However, the playoffs have been a different story for Vermette.
Described by Bob Verdi as a “veteran center who wins face-offs, abides by a 200-foot discipline and never needs a note from his doctor,” Vermette has been exactly that. His biggest contribution to the team has definitely been in the face-off dot. He has won 67 draws out of 101, and is in the top of the league in the category.
Kruger is one of the more underappreciated players on the Blackhawks. An extremely smart player, Kruger is a vital part of the penalty-kill and is responsible in all zones on the ice. It’s hard to imagine asking more from a player who is centering your fourth line. Coach Quenneville has always spoke highly of his fourth line center, recently comparing him to Marian Hossa.
Quenneville equates Marcus Kruger's defensive awareness, positioning and attention to detail to Marian Hossa's. High praise. #Blackhawks
— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) May 3, 2015
With Kruger becoming a restricted free agent this summer, the Blackhawks will surely put re-signing him as a high priority.
Clearly, the Blackhawks are loaded at the center position. Stacked with veterans, the Blackhawks are one of the deepest teams in the league, and it has shown throughout the playoffs. If the Blackhawks defense holds up and the rest of the forwards continue to contribute, the Blackhawks will be in a prime position to play for their third Stanley Cup in five years.
Zach is a hockey-fanatic on the North Side of Chicago with a passion for the NHL and college hockey.