How Colliton might build Blackhawks lines early this season
It took almost a week, but Jeremy Colliton finally gave us a sneak peek of what the opening-night lineup might look like when the Blackhawks begin the regular season in Prague on Oct. 4.
At Thursday and Friday's practices, Colliton separated players into two groups -- one that will likely break camp with the Hawks; and one that will likely go to Rockford.
The most interesting part of the last two days has been watching how Colliton might build his lines.
• Captain Jonathan Toews, coming off a career year with 35 goals and 81 points, is centering the top line with Patrick Kane and newcomer Alex Nylander as his wingers.
• Dylan Strome is between Alex DeBrincat and Andrew Shaw on the second line.
• David Kampf, who managed just 4 goals in 63 games last season, centers an intriguing third line with Brandon Saad and Dominik Kubalik.
• Drake Caggiula, Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith are on the fourth line.
Anton Wedin and Brendan Perlini have been rotating in.
After the Hawks defeated Detroit at the United Center on Wednesday, Colliton said he isn't married to playing Toews and Kane together. Some games they will, some they won't. Some games they'll start together and then be split up -- and vice versa.
It's a great option to have, and Colliton plans to mix things up as he sees fit.
Nylander's ascension to the top line -- even if it doesn't last long -- has to be the story of camp, though. Ever since a pedestrian showing at development camp in July, the No. 8 overall pick of the 2016 draft has done everything he's asked and shined while doing it.
"He's probably been the most impressive player that is fighting for a spot," Kane said. "He's done everything he can so far. He's really good with the puck, he hangs onto it really well and can make a lot of plays.
"Once we play with him a little bit more and figure out the way we want to play, I think there could be some potential there."
The key, of course, will be for the young forward to keep it up each and every day.
And that's because Colliton could easily move the tough, gritty Shaw up to play with Kane and Toews. Or Saad. Or Caggiula. Or even Perlini.
As for that third line, it will be interesting to see how Kampf fares this season. He's a quiet, defensive center who can be a big part of the penalty kill.
But putting him between Kubalik, who possesses a monster shot, and Saad shows that Colliton believes there's more offensive upside there.
"He could finish better," Colliton said. "He creates a lot. … I would just like the shot selection to be a little better. Make an intelligent shot -- you don't have to go (cross)bar/down every time.
"Whether you create a rebound or consistently hit your spot, I think you can create some extra goals for yourself. Just play the averages."
Colliton also expects that line to "tilt the ice" and take away some of the defensive responsibilities from the top six. If they embrace that role -- and then chip in offensively -- it will go a long way in helping the Hawks compete for a playoff spot.
"Any team that makes a deep run has that depth, and you can see that balance a little bit more this year," Saad said. "(We should) have more guys contributing. It won't be only the top guys who produce every night, and that helps teams win."