By Adam Hess
With the Blackhawks opening their preseason this week with back-to-back games against the Detroit Red Wings, the first on Tuesday night, much focus has been placed on Patrick Kane’s presence at training camp and with the team as they prepare for the season.
While many are frustrated with Kane being there amid a sexual assault investigation, the fact is that he’s already there and participating, and remaining hung up on it is like drinking poison and expecting it to hurt someone else.
Instead, it’s time to shift our focus to what the team will actually look like when the regular season gets underway against the New York Rangers on October 7.
While there are more than a few certainties as to which players will make the roster, there are still some roster holes to fill. Additionally, where each player will play and what the line combinations will look like on opening night is still up for much debate.
Though we are only through the first five days of training camp, one thing that appears be set already is what the top line will look like when the season begins.
Marko Dano found himself on the left wing of Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa for nearly all of the training camp scrimmages, and he’s thrived in that role. On the second day of camp, he notched two goals and added an assist while leading his team to a scrimmage victory.
His success playing with Toews and Hossa isn’t exactly surprising as he plays a very similar game to their former linemate Brandon Saad, and maybe even has a bit more offensive upside.
While this will probably not remain the top line for the whole season, it’s certainly a strong start, and a great sign of Joel Quenneville’s trust in his new young winger.
Another big question is where Russian import Artemi Panarin will play. A 23-year old forward with crazy skill – we’re talking Patrick Kane-like skill, here people – Panarin certainly has a lot of upside as a scoring threat and potential star for the Blackhawks this coming season. He’s already been in the conversation as one of the best candidates to win the Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year.
However, this is just his first season of North American hockey, and while he did have great success in Russia’s KHL last season – he led the eventual league champions SKA St. Petersburg in scoring – that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will immediately transition to NHL success.
The best place for Panarin is likely on the third line, which is the line on which Coach Q places the lightest load of responsibility. The third line is essentially designed to go out and dominate the other team’s worst line, which is a role that seems perfect for Panarin.
I expect to see him on that line along with Teuvo Teravainen and fellow Russian and former SKA teammate Viktor Tikhonov during this preseason, and hopefully that will lead to success and we can see that line throughout the regular season.
There’s still plenty of questions in regards to the Blackhawks roster makeup when the season starts, and plenty of time for Coach Q and his assistants to figure out how to best fill out their roster. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy the fact that hockey is back, even if the games don’t mean anything yet.