By Adam Hess
With the Chicago Blackhawks off to a bit of a slow start to the season, there’s a whole lot of disappointment surrounding the Men of Madison right now. The penalty kill, which has often been a strong indicator of success for the Hawks in the Joel Quenneville era, has been the worst in the league, being scored upon more often than not.
Key veterans have been failing to produce at an alarming rate, with captain and number one center Jonathan Toews among the most disappointing players in the NHL to start this season. Through seven games thus far, Toews has found his way to the score sheet just twice, with two assists. He has as many points as the likes of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger, and half as many as rookie winger Tyler Motte. That is bad.
So with so much going wrong for the Blackhawks, it’s been encouraging to see the torrid start of second line center Artem Anisimov. As a member of the Hawks’ most dangerous line last year, Anisimov was viewed as a bit of a passenger with Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane. Not to say that Anisimov was not an impactful player last year, but playing with elite players like Panarin and Kane is bound to elevate any player’s game, and it certainly worked for Anisimov.
However, this season, Anisimov has been the straw stirring the drink for the Hawks’ second line. Through the Hawks’ first seven games, Anisimov leads the team with nine points (four goals, five assists), seven of which have come at even strength. For reference, Kane – last year’s NHL point leader and MVP – is still at eight points (two goals, six assists). Anisimov’s hot start has been largely localized in the last week or so, as he’s scored eight of his nine points in the Hawks last five games, with seven points in four games last week, which earned him the NHL’s second-star honor.
Now, as tends to be the case with torrid starts to a season, there is plenty of reason to believe that this explosion from Anisimov early on will not last too long. He is shooting an astronomical 33 percent, converting his four goals on just 12 shots on net. It also is unknown how much longer he will be playing on a line with Kane and Panarin, as many believe that line will be split up in an effort to distribute talent throughout the Hawks’ lineup and give them more depth.
However, for the time being, Ansimov has been the Blackhawks best player, and that is a good thing. Chicago has been forced to rely upon the scoring of Panarin, Anisimov, and Kane for much of their offensive output while the other lines struggle, so it’s encouraging to see Anisimov step up to the plate when necessary.
If he can continue to produce at a higher than expected level, we could see him end up with 60 or 65 points this season, which has become a sort of benchmark for elite production in today’s NHL. Combine that with the struggling players like Toews likely hitting their stride soon, and the Blackhawks may be all right after all.
Follow Adam on Twitter: @_adamhess.