Blackhawks Confidential

Skille takes another fall with Blackhawks; can small Ebbett rise to the occasion?

ebbett.jpgIf wannabe Jack Skille was pulling his weight for the Blackhawks, which would be that of a promising first-round draft pick from 2005, I don't think it would matter one bit that his salary cap hit was $1.25 million this season.

If he was what the Blackhawks wanted and had them excited about his progression, he would still be in the NHL today and preparing for Wednesday night's game against Vancouver, not out of sight, out of mind in Rockford, stuck in the minors because he costs too much.

Yes, they went cheaper by claiming center Andrew Ebbett from Anaheim on waivers and simply plugging him into Skille's recent role on the fourth line. Ebbett's salary cap hit is only $475,000.

But is it all about the money or it all about Skille, who had a goal and an assist in five games played this year and was a minus-two?

Remember, these are the Blackhawks that don't care what it costs to win the Stanley Cup as shown in their summer showering of money here and there to various free agents. That leads me to believe it's all about Skille and not all about the money.

Skille would be worth it if he was pulling his load. No one is going to come out and rain negativity on Skille's parade back-and-forth, but this latest move has to be considered a demotion that can't sit well with him.

The stats don't tell the story about a fourth liner as much as breaking down his effort on ice. While Skille undoubtedly gave a solid effort and deserved some plaudits, I suspect he was found wanting by the Hawks in too many ways with how he went about his business.

As I have noted before in this space, as hard as Skille laid it all out in some determined performances this season, he sometimes looked like that proverbial bull in a china shop. I have to think there is some serious internal questioning going on about Skille's future in this organization.

Some have rated him as a likely top-six foward some year. Do you still see any reason for that optimism?

It's true that some players develop late. But the clock is running on Skille, 22, if not actually running out. Time may not be on his side in Chicago. Maybe eventually they just throw him into a bigger deal and move on, another first-rounder down the drain.

Sooner or later, the Blackhawks are going to miss Adam Burish and Ben Eager, and their loss of physicality might become reflective in their record. At 5-2-1, though, they have time to experiment and take a gamble on diminuitive center Ebbett playing a winger role he is quite unfamiliar with.

The Ducks could have used him on the fourth line, too. They didn't see it as a job he could handle effectively.

According to a NHL source, Ebbett was knocked off the puck too much with his small size of 5-foot-9, 174 pounds. That doesn't lend one to believe in him as a fourth liner.

"He can't play the third or fourth line," a source told me straight up, no equivocation.

Even Ebbett acknowledged that was Anaheim's thinking when he told Chicago reporters that after the Ducks added Saku Koivu, "they didn't want me to play anywhere else, so it just didn't work out."

The Hawks traded a Badger for a Wolverine in shifting from the University of Wisconsin's Skille to the University of Michigan's Ebbett. What's the difference between a Badger and Wolverine?

Well, about 40 pounds. Badgers grow to 20 pounds and wolverines to 60. So maybe the Hawks' scouting staff saw something bigger in Ebbett than the Ducks' staff did.

That happens all the time. Opinions vary and sometimes judgments on players are skewed.

Ebbett had a hand in the Ducks making the playoffs last spring, scoring 4 goals, 6 assists during a 10-2-1 stretch run. It didn't hurt that he was centering for Teemu Selanne's line and getting all the best of it with that role.

That has led to some speculation the Hawks also see Ebbett as a fallback position in case second-line center Dave Bolland's back problems re-emerge. It's already being bandied about on the blogs that Bolland's so-so start this season is due to lingering back ailments.

The reports are Ebbett will be a welcome addition to the Hawks clubhouse. He gets high marks for being a very nice fella. Let's hope that translates to nice results on the ice.

He joins a fourth line centered by Colin Fraser for now, where winger Tomas Kopecky is searching to find his stride after coming to Chicago from Detroit with high expectations he would be a difference-maker. How Ebbett impacts this line's uncertain future will be one of the subplots against the Canucks.

Skille played 16 games for the Hawks in 2007-08, just eight last season and now is stuck at five so far this year. Down, down, down. Whether he will be needed again this season is a question the Hawks probably hope they don't have to answer.

Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candlestick.

Well, not without getting his ass burned now and then.

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7 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, watching Ebbett play as a Duck, he didn't waddle. Could be a good pickup by StanBow.

Skille, as you say, had simply fluttered instead of flown.

Sometimes high picks don't pan out. There was this guy named Cleary, see...

cubby23(eric) said:

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I will reserve judgment on Ebbett till I see how Q uses him. I'm concerned that Eager could be out a long time and Bolland with that cranky back...those aren't easily fixable injuries. I still think there's a lot to be optimistic about this Hawk team so far.

Cleary and Skille are two very different scenarios. Cleary had off-ice issues that unfortunately weren't resolved until he was dealt away and an ex-Hawk. Skille's been given very little chance to succeed here so far. The jury is still out on what he could be or will be. In his limited time this season, I like the energy he brought, he obviously has the speed, but it's his hands and ability to get goals on the NHL level that I wonder about.

I almost feel as if Skille will get a better chance once Bowman makes decisions on who to keep and who to deal in order to find cap space for the big 3 TKK. Maybe Skille gets dealt at some point. The best thing that could happen is he goes down to Rockford and puts up pts. to increase his value.

Dave Morris said:

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@Cubby> wasn't comparing Skille to Cleary, but rather using Cleary as an example of a #1 pick who didn't work out in Chicago.

There are lots of others who were top picks for other teams, who didn't pan out either.

cubby23(eric) said:

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I just thought it was early to proclaim Skille as not panning out. Maybe he won't be worth where he was drafted, but that doesn't mean he can't be a serviceable NHL player somewhere.

Dave Morris said:

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Cubby, if you look at the 1st rounders chosen the same year as Skille, it's a fair statement to say Skille hasn't panned out as expected. Being a 'serviceable' player isn't commensurate with his salary either. Maybe Jack will develop, but he hasn't shown he's ready to Commit to The Indian. Know what I mean?

CT said:

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I think Ebbett will likely see some time on the second line. Dave Bolland's got that bad back, and back injuries tend to linger. I don't think it's a big leap to assume Bolland will be missing some more games this year due to injury or just to be rested. Ebbett can step into Bolland's diminutive skates and Jack Skille can make his usual drive in from Rockford.

VegasHawksFan said:

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I like Skille as well, though his mistakes at times could make him look really bad. It could be the Hawks had something other than money on their minds, but maybe they are just trying the cheap guy in hopes of making some other trade later.

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