Power Ranking the Chicago Blackhawks' Role Players
Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane grab many of the headlines for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Those two superstars played a huge role in the Blackhawks' 2009-10 and 2012-13 championship seasons, and they were joined by fellow stars like Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook.
But while the superstars are vital in Chicago, general manager Stan Bowman has the kind of quality role players that allowed the team to win a lot of games when the superstars were not playing up to their potential.
Take Game 6 of last season's Stanley Cup Final. Role player Bryan Bickell scored the tying goal and fellow grinder Dave Bolland scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Boston Bruins. While Bolland is now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Blackhawks are still dependent on their role players.
In this feature, we power rank the role players based on past and current contributions.
7. C Brandon Pirri
2013-14 Stats: 16 games; six goals, five assists, plus-six
Analysis: Rookie Brandon Pirri is one of the key players for the Blackhawks this season. He is a skilled forward who can play wing or center, and he has spent the majority of his time as the center on the second line between Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane.
Head coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman trust Pirri to this point because he is a very talented offensive player who can also hold his own on the defensive end. When he has the puck in the offensive zone, Pirri is not afraid to hold on to the puck and take his own shot, but he will pass the puck with ease to an open teammate.
The only thing the Blackhawks are worried about is his physical strength and consistency. Pirri could afford to put a few pounds on his 6'0", 183-pound frame.
If he can handle the full-season grind, the Blackhawks may have found their second-line center for the foreseeable future.
6. C Marcus Kruger
2013-14 Stats: 21 games; two goals, six assists, plus-one
Analysis: Marcus Kruger may not look like a very vital player when it comes to the Blackhawks' championship aspirations based on his stats, but that would be an incorrect assumption.
Kruger is a fourth-line center on the depth chart, but he is much more than that. He is a strong defensive player and is an excellent penalty-killer. He simply has the know-how and skating ability to make key plays whenever he is on the ice.
Kruger is also a solid faceoff man who has won 53.9 percent of the draws he has taken this season.
Kruger scored a key goal in the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Final last season when he finished off a two-on-one break with Michael Frolik that allowed the Blackhawks to regain a two-goal lead in a game they would eventually win.
5. C Andrew Shaw
2013-14 Stats: 21 games; four goals, seven assists, plus-five
Analysis: Andrew Shaw is another player who is a lot more valuable to the Blackhawks then his numbers would indicate.
Shaw is one of those players who will take on any assignment that head coach Joel Quenneville gives him and execute to the best of his ability no matter how difficult it is.
For example, during last season's Cup Final against the Bruins, Shaw was completely fearless taking on bigger and more powerful players, including Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara.
If he had to eat an elbow or a forearm just to have a chance at coming away with the puck, Shaw did not hesitate. Shaw is also an agitator who will try to take opponents out of their game with an insult or an elbow.
Yes, he skirts the outside of the rules, but he usually gets results. That's why the Blackhawks just signed Shaw to a two-year, $4 million extension.
Shaw scored the game-winning goal in triple overtime against the Bruins in the first game of the Stanley Cup Final when Michal Rozsival's shot deflected off his shin pads and past Tuukka Rask to end the marathon game.
4. D Niklas Hjalmarsson
2013-14 Stats: 21 games; two goals, seven assists, plus-eight
Analysis: Niklas Hjalmarsson is a steady, solid workmanlike defenseman who is happy to do his job.
He does not have to get involved in the offense, because he knows he is so dependable on the defensive end, and that's the most important part of his job.
However, if he gets his chance when the Blackhawks are on the attack, he is going to step up and take it. That's because Hjalmarsson has great hockey sense, and that's why Joel Quenneville has been playing him an average of 21:09 per game.
Hjalmarsson nearly had his headline moment when he appeared to score the series-winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings late in the third period of the seventh game of their conference semifinal playoff series last spring. However, while his slap shot got past Jimmy Howard and the United Center exploded into a cacophony of celebration, officials waved off the goal because of a penalty away from the play.
That the Blackhawks could survive that call and still manage to win was a testimony to the team's all-around talent and focus.
3. LW Brandon Saad
2013-14 Stats: 21 games; five goals, eight assists, plus-eight
Analysis: Brandon Saad played a key role for the Blackhawks during his rookie season. He earned a spot on the NHL's All-Rookie team by scoring 10 goals, 17 assists and finishing plus-17 during the lockout-shortened season.
Saad has all the tools to rise above the title of role player and become a star. He is an excellent skater with very good offensive skills. He can find the openings in the defense, hold on to the puck and then make a perfect pass or take the hard shot.
Saad is an improving defensive player, but he could continue to improve in that area or the Blackhawks could also like him to shoot more often. Saad can dominate when he uses his 6'1", 202-pound frame aggressively.
2. LW Bryan Bickell
2013-14 Stats: 21 games; five goals, one assists, even plus/minus
Analysis: Bryan Bickell is a hard-nosed, big and physical forward who will sacrifice his body in order to make an important play for the Blackhawks.
While Bickell is not as dominant a power forward like Milan Lucic is for the Boston Bruins, he is that same style of player and could improve quite a bit and climb the ladder.
Bickell is a 6'4", 233-pound bruiser who scored the tying goal in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Final last season. That's one of the accomplishments that makes Bickell a standout player.
While he may not have the numbers in the regular season, Bickell turned it on in the postseason last year. He scored nine goals and added eight assists in 23 games and was also plus-11.
Bickell may not have the natural ability of the team's top stars, but he will work hard, put himself in a position to do a lot of damage and then make a play. Bickell was rewarded for his contribution and sacrifice by getting a four-year, $16 million contract extension in the offseason.
1. D Johnny Oduya
2013-14 Stats: 21 games; one goal, five assists, plus-five
Analysis: The Blackhawks struggled quite a bit after they won the 2010 Stanley Cup. They barely made the playoffs in 2010-11 and were struggling in 2011-12 until they acquired Johnny Oduya in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets.
Once Oduya arrived in Chicago, the Blackhawks went 12-6-0 and secured their playoff position. Oduya quickly presented himself as a solid pro who could make every play on the defensive end against the opponent's top players.
When it came to breaking up plays, blocking shots, carrying the puck, skating or delivering a big hit, Oduya has been more than up to the task with the Blackhawks.
The bigger the moment, the better he seems to play.
He may not be as gifted as star defensemen Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook, but he is a winning hockey player who has the know-how to make plays when the game is on the line.
Forwards Brandon Bollig and Kris Versteeg, along with defensemen Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival, were not included in this feature.
The players that were included all bring unique talents to the Blackhawks. Bollig and Rozsival could easily be replaced by role players from other teams or with minor league call-ups.
Leddy is still developing and has the talent to become a star at some point. Versteeg just arrived in a trade last week, so it was not appropriate to include him in these rankings.
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