The Chicago Blackhawks have had an issue in the middle of their second line for a while. With the advent of training camp on Saturday, a new candidate is being touted for the role.
As was the case last year, it's a familiar face to 'Hawks fans. That would be a guy who has anchored the checking line for the past few seasons, Dave Bolland.
Brad Boron of ChicagoBlackhawks.com reported on the lines in training camp, Sunday, when the team worked out. Bolland was centering Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp on the second line. GM Stan Bowman, who championed Kane as a solution at center just a season ago, told Boron that the 'Hawks are set to see what Bolland can do.
We’ve slotted Dave in at that third-line role for a long time…now is the time to give him an expanded role on our team. The timing is now to see if it fits. He’s got a lot of skills, and he’s scored a lot of big goals for us. He’s got the ability to do things offensively…He’s really earned the opportunity to see what he can do. Dave’s well-suited to give it a chance.
Bringing up Bolland to a top-six center role isn't exactly a new idea. He has spent stretches there in previous seasons. He had some success when Jonathan Toews was out of the lineup in the last two months of the regular season. Perhaps his success as a pesky defensive forward has worked against him in this regard.
Bolland played 76 games for Chicago last season, the closest he has come to a healthy season since the 2008-09 campaign. Last season saw Bolland match his career high with 19 goals, though he wound up with the same 37-point total he produced in just 61 games in 2010-11.
Bolland is two seasons removed from back surgery that limited him to 39 games in 2009-10. Health is always going to be something of a concern.
For now, let's pretend we are going to have Bolland for at least 40 games. Can he be effective in a different role this coming season? The 'Hawks may be well served to find out.
To quell the bevy of advocates of Sharp manning the pivot, right now that doesn't seem to be in the cards for reasons only Sharp and Blackhawks management know. Sharp has been successful at center, but we haven't seen a lot of him there since Chicago hoisted the Stanley Cup.
This leaves us with several avenues the 'Hawks could choose to take. Kane could line up at center, following up on Bowman's grand designs of last fall. Marcus Kruger could get a shot to raise his game to the top-six level. Either of these scenarios play to Bowman's ego as he has touted both skaters.
However, Kane is probably going to produce more on the wing. Kruger is probably suited to a more defensive position at this stage of his development.
Brandon Pirri is in camp and is a better candidate than Kruger in terms of offense. The trick is that he hasn't won a lot of confidence around management that he can produce in the NHL just yet.
Perhaps the best argument for Bolland moving up to the second line is that by doing so, Kane and Kruger can operate where they can help the team the most. Of course, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville loves scrambling his lines, so it's possible we could see a three- or even a four-headed monster at the position.
The 'Hawks retain Bolland's services through next season unless he is traded. Perhaps by then, Pirri or one of Chicago's recent draftees can be ready to assume a top-six role.
In the present tense, it may be time to see what Bolland can do.