New Look Blackhawks Bring Grit and Experience

You’ve heard them all, the bread and butter Line, the grind line, the lottery line, or the shutdown line. Every team has certain roles that each line fulfills and the Blackhawks are no different. When Stan Bowman went out and kicked tires over trades, he had several things in mind.

With Andrew Ladd, he was looking for a big, skilled winger who could add some scoring punch to his already talented top line. The bonus is that he grabbed a player who is already familiar with the Blackhawks system which alleviates any trade hangover, such as the one that Antoine Vermette experienced last season. The hope is that Ladd will have a quick transition as he gets back into the Indianhead sweater.

With Dale Weise, he was looking for a player that could add size to the bottom six, and that brings a bit more of an imposing physicality. A gritty depth forward who could match up well against teams like Los Angeles and Anaheim.

With Christian Ehrhoff, he was looking for intelligent and experienced defensive depth, and with Tomas Fleischmann, he was looking to add a veteran that is versatile enough to slot in wherever the team had a hole to fill. These are the kinds of moves that teams have to make to stay competitive from year to year. They come at a high price, but if they pay off, the reward is equally high.

With all of these new additions, the lines are starting to come together in terms of how they might work come playoff time. Of course, they are always subject to the ‘Q-sinart’ line blender but here’s how they might look come the middle of April.

The Lottery Line

Andrew Ladd will likely wind up with two players he is very familiar with in Marian Hossa (when he returns from injury) and Jonathan Toews. This is what he was brought in for, and there is no doubt this will be the line that he will spend most of his time on going forward.

This is a big, skilled line that will in most cases be tasked with stopping the opponent’s top guns as we saw on Sunday afternoon when Ladd, Toews, and Andrew Shaw rolled out against one of the leagues most potent offensive lines in Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and  T.J. Oshie. Toews absolutely dominated on the face-off dot with an 82 percent success rate, and that helped to keep the Capitals from really getting much started against them.

Ovechkin had the most minutes among forwards for either team with 21:03 and registered six hits and five shots, but he was blanked through 60 minutes. Oshie logged 18:57 minutes and collected a hit and two shots, but he was also blanked. Finally, Backstrom was on the ice for 18:40 minutes and added an assist to his two shots and two hits. So, as a whole, the Toews line was up to the task. In addition, Toews collected a goal and Ladd an assist.

When Hossa returns, this line will be the biggest line as each player is over six feet tall. All three players are excellent two-way forwards, with Toews being among the top in the league (if not the top) in that regard. Whatever may come, this line should be up to the challenge.

There is little doubt that the addition of Ladd will make this line one of the toughest top lines to go up against in the league.

The Bread and Butter Line

This line is about as close to untouchable as they come for Joel Quenneville. All season long (apart from Artemi Panarin’s very brief stint on the top line) they have dominated putting up top line level production. Few teams boast such a high octane one-two punch like the Blackhawks as they roll with what most would call a 1A and a 1B line.

Artem Anisimov plays between Patrick Kane and Panarin so effectively that it is almost as if Stan Bowman created him in a lab somewhere. The line has had very few missteps over the course of the season thus far and has contributed an insane amount of highlight reel worthy footage. Panarin and Kane play a very similar style of game with all the flash and gaudy numbers while Anisimov quietly hangs around the net and throws in whatever comes in his general direction. The partnership has resulted in one of his best year’s production-wise.

Anisimov is the big, strong centerman needed to offset the pair of smaller wingers. He is strong on the puck and has a habit of lingering near the crease and letting his wingers work their magic. With Panarin and Kane on the ice, that is a pretty good place to be. His only real weakness is on the face-off dot, but that number is beginning to climb. Ordinarily, that might get a player into hot water with Quenneville, but with the way this line has been playing it is highly unlikely that Q is losing any sleep over it.

The trio has produced 36 goals over the course of the season which leads both Dallas’s top scoring line of Patrick Sharp, Jamie Benn, and Tyler Seguin by 11, and Ovechkin’s line by 13. In addition, Kane and Panarin (rookie) are each running away with the scoring leads with 85 and 57 respectively.

There isn’t a team in the league that hasn’t taken notice of the Blackhawks ‘second’ line, and apart from a handful of rough games here and there, few teams have been able to shut them down.

The Shakedown Line

This line could have a couple of different looks, but one thing that seems to be clear is that it is Teuvo Teravainen’s line to anchor. The Blackhawks made a lot of statements with the trades that they pulled off in the last few days, but the biggest statement of all may have been that they have complete faith in their young Finnish centerman. His name was floated about, and there were almost certainly some sleepless nights for Teravainen, but as the dust settles, it is the young Finn standing in the role that he was always intended to have.

The idea of trading Teravainen was a tough one to swallow given the potential, so while losing a player like Phillip Danault is difficult there was a collective sigh of relief that Teravainen was not the chip in play. Teravainen is not especially gritty or combative, but his finesse game should balance the line however it is configured. He is quick and crafty with the puck and has earned his stripes over the last few seasons.

His wings will likely be a work in progress, but there are a few players who could really make this line a scary prospect for opposing teams. Dale Weise appears to be a lock for this line. He brings some size to a line that has been on the smaller side in years past with his 6′ 2″ frame and a good deal of grit. Weise can battle in the corners, is good on the forecheck and thrives around the net.

One option would be to play on the chemistry that Tomas Fleischmann and Weise have from playing together in Montreal for much of the season. Fleischmann is a veteran player with excellent offensive instincts who can set up and score when needed. Both Teravainen and Weise could benefit from his skill set. Richard Panik could also slot in here as he has consistently been in the lineup and earned the trust of coach Q since he was acquired earlier in the season.

Another option that might get some looks is Weise and Andrew Shaw on either side of Teravainen, and this is when it truly becomes the shakedown line. The pair are known agitators who have gotten under the skin of some of the league’s best and will bring a much-needed physical presence to the bottom six. This line is the type of line that will steal your lunch money and then throw it right into the back of the net while chirping the entire time.

Weise as many may recall is the player that got under Milan Lucic’s skin during their playoff round in 2014. It earned him a few jabs and a lovely parting threat from the Bruins resident goon. Should the Blackhawks meet the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals, that should be a fun matchup to watch.

Shaw is no slouch either when it comes to badgering the opposition, he has chirped the best of them and will go head to head with guys that have considerable advantages size-wise. Shaw is the little pit bull mutt that just latches on and never gives up. If he plays for you, you can’t help but love him; If he doesn’t, you love to hate him.

Shaw is currently a placeholder for Hossa on the top line, but it is a good bet that he gets a good long look here, as this line could play a big role should the Blackhawks face either Los Angeles or Anaheim.

The Shutdown Line

Shaw could also factor in on the shutdown line where he was especially effective last season in the playoffs with Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger (who is slated to return towards the end of the season or at the start of the playoffs).

A few other options are Panik, Fleischmann, and Dennis Rasmussen.

This line is employed in the defensive zone starts and has been very effective in shutting down late period pushes, especially when the game is on the line. Kruger is the Blackhawks penalty kill specialist, and he also produces solid numbers that linger around the 50 percent range on the face-off dot. He is a defensive forward, so he doesn’t provide a lot of scoring, but he is rarely caught out of position and protects the puck well.

Andrew Desjardins is a jack of all trades. He can bring a scoring touch when needed, but he prefers to battle at the boards and set up plays for his linemates. He has played on virtually every line and in a variety of situations which makes him an invaluable asset going into the playoffs. He is best suited to a bottom six role, but in a pinch, he can keep pace on any line.

Panik is another option who can bring some speed and skill to the line. He projects as a top-six player down the line but has played mostly in the bottom six with a few stints on the top line in place of Hossa. He is a two-way forward, but his inexperience at the NHL level makes him a better option for the bottom six. However, he does have a knack for finding scoring opportunities as he did in Sunday’s game against the league-leading Capitals.

Rasmussen is a center, so his role is likely to change dramatically when Kruger returns, but he could find a spot on one of the wings and is a solid option should the Blackhawks need to use their depth at center. This is in fact, the first year the Blackhawks have that type of center depth heading into the playoffs in the Kane and Toews era.

Right about now, coach Quenneville has to be feeling pretty good about his forward corps.