When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, the depth on the Chicago roster was the biggest difference between the Blackhawks and their opponents.
It's early in the 2011-12 season, but the Hawks third line is already starting to look like the dominant trio that helped lead those Hawks to the promised land.
After he was acquired from Florida last year, two-time 20-goal scorer Michael Frolik was moved to the checking line with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell. His scoring ability didn't show up in his time with the Hawks last year, but the three developed great chemistry on the ice.
Over the summer, when GM Stan Bowman was evaluating the players he needed to keep, it became evident early on the Frolik was an important piece of the puzzle. Bowman rewarded the young forward with a three-year, $7M contract.
While players were missing action during the preseason and early in the season, coach Joel Quenneville has acted contrary to his usual mad scientist approach and kept his third line locked in stone. And, through three games, it's paid dividends.
Bickell, 25, has been physical, which is exactly what the Hawks need from him. In three games, Bickell has already been credited with a team-high nine hits and has blocked two shots. Quenneville has used Bickell on the powerplay, and he has picked up two assists so far this year. He has only put the puck on net six times, however, and could shoot more often.
Frolik, 23, has only been credited with one assist in the three games to date, but his work on the defensive end has been exceptional. He is second on the team with four takeaways (behind Patrick Kane's five), and leads all Hawks forwards with four blocked shots. Like Bickell, there have been times that he probably should have been more selfish with the puck in the offensive end, but his points will come if he keeps playing the way he has so far.
Bolland, 25, has been an absolute beast to start the year.
After missing the season's first game, Bolland has scored three goals in two contests. He has been credited with three hits, and is winning over 63 percent of his faceoffs. Maybe most impressive, Bolland has been contributing both on the penalty kill and power play, and has skated 54 shifts in two games. Only Duncan Keith has skated more than 27 shifts per game on the Hawks roster so far this season.
In both home games this year, the third line has been the game-changer.
Bolland scored twice in the home opener, and he scored again on Thursday night. What has been most impressive about the line's work is that they have forced a role reversal with the top lines of the Stars and Jets. Bickell, Frolik and Bolland have dictated the tempo of the game whenever they've been on the ice together.
Blackhawks fans remembered how good the line of Bolland, Kris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd were when Ladd visited the UC on Thursday night. If early season play continues through the rest of the year, there might be similar magic coming.