Hawks' No. 2 line work in progress again
The genius of Patrick Kane is that you can put virtually anyone with him and he'll be productive.
And the downside is while the Blackhawks stack lines around him, the second line is often the place of most experiments -- and Kane is sometimes left entirely alone to both create and score.
The good news is that Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is the master of finding something that works, constantly tinkering and searching for the hot hand.
Even during the playoffs last year when so many wondered why Michael Handzus was getting ice time, Handzus eventually made the Hawks coach look brilliant when he came through with several huge plays over the final three rounds.
So now what?
Hawks general manager Stan Bowman says the Hawks made their big move early when they acquired Kris Versteeg, and with precious little cap space available, dreams of bringing in players like Kane's two-time Olympic teammate Ryan Kesler before Wednesday's trade deadline are merely dreams unless the Hawks can send a big number the other way.
"I've had some teams call. Traditionally, we don't get a lot of inbound calls because they know we're not looking to trade players away," Bowman said. "Since we're not looking to add players, I haven't had to make a lot of calls.
"I'm just not that focused on it because I'm really confident in our group. We've got a really good chemistry, and I think sometimes that's overlooked, the importance of keeping your group together, giving them a chance to show what they can do as a group, as opposed to trying to bring in new pieces.
"I like the group we have and we're excited to go to war with these guys."
Versteeg didn't do much the month prior to the break, but he had several good chances in New York on Thursday and Kane gave him an easy tap-in Saturday night at Soldier Field.
"I've been pressing for a little while now," Versteeg said. "You try to take positives every game and that's one you can take and hopefully build confidence."
If Versteeg can get it going, it will place less significance on who emerges as the No. 2 center, and Quenneville believes there's much more there.
"I thought (Versteeg) came out of the break with a real good purpose to his game," Quenneville said. "I think he's one player that's been fine since he's been here. There is still another level that when he gets to that production he can generate, he's going to really enhance the team game."
The way Marcus Kruger played at both ends of the ice in Sochi would give good reason to think he could handle the job as the No. 2 center, but the way the fourth line is playing, Quenneville probably doesn't want to mess with that unit at the moment.
Meanwhile, newly acquired Peter Regin will continue to get opportunities.
"I like his game," Quenneville said. "He's going to add dimension to our team down the middle with some depth, and he's got patience and play recognition as well, and defensively he's a reliable guy."
Brandon Pirri did a good job offensively when he had the opportunity, but the Hawks weren't pleased with his defensive work. He was sent back to Rockford. Then Sunday night, Pirri was dealt to Florida in exchange for a pair of draft picks.
"With young players, there's always areas of the game they have to improve on, and when they reach that point there's never a magical moment," Bowman said. "It's a process. Same thing with Jeremy Morin. They've both been up and down a couple times and each time they come back, they seem a little bit more prepared to do the things you have to do at this level.
"The (Rockford) team in general has had a great season. They've really been on a roll. I think that's what we're trying to do is give those guys a chance when they're not in Chicago to play big minutes and prepare themselves for when the time comes and they're here."
So the Hawks continue to search for a second line down the stretch, as Kane finds a way to make it work with whomever he draws.
Nothing much new about that.
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