The Blackhawks roster is set, and we've started looking at the team's depth chart heading toward the coming season.
On Sunday, we examined the potential fourth line combinations. Now, in the second edition of our series, let's look at how the third line might shape-up this year.
All three of the players projected for the Blackhawks third line this year was on the NHL roster in 2010-11, and this could be a physical line that also brings a solid offensive punch to the ice every night.
In the middle will probably be Dave Bolland. While the organization (and many fans) would love for him to ultimately move up to centering the second line with Marian Hossa, he has shown an exceptional ability to destroy the mental state of opposing teams' top line center. From Henrik Sedin to Joe Thornton, Bolland has wrecked all-stars' brains for the last couple years. If he's healthy, he could be a candidate for the Selke when 2011-12 ends.
Because Bolland is so good in his role as the third line center, Marcus Krüger will likely begin the season on the fourth line with at least one physical veteran on his wing. Krüger projects as a top-six forward (meaning second line center as long as #19 is in Chicago), but he simply doesn't have the experience in North America yet to justify starting the season in that position.
When the postseason begins, the lines may be very different. In a perfect world, both Bolland and Krüger have elevated their game and given coach Joel Quenneville options at center. But these projections are for the beginning of the season, and the third line is where Bolland projects in October.
On the wings with Bolland could be two physical players that can finish around the net as well. Bryan Bickell ranked ninth among rookies last year with 17 goals, and also ranked in the league's top 15 rookies with 37 points. Perhaps more importantly, his 178 hits ranked second among all NHL rookies last year, 40 ahead of third (Matt Martin of the Islanders was first with 299).
Opposite Bickell could be Ben Smith, who exploded onto the scene against Vancouver in the playoffs. The former Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player had 11 hits and six blocked shots in seven postseason games with the Hawks, and showed off good hands around the net.
The combination of physical play and skills on the ice that Bickell, Bolland and Smith would bring together could be an ideal group for the Blackhawks to begin the season... and a nightmare for opponents.