Yesterday, we graded the forwards on the Blackhawks forwards at the season's mid-way point. Now, let's turn our attention the defensemen.
When we posted our evaluation of the Blackhawks' blue line at the quarter-season mark, one of the areas we were watching was ice time; at that point in the season, coach Joel Quenneville was doing an exceptional job of spreading out the ice time among his rearguards.
But there were some well-founded doubts at that time. Would Quenneville continue spreading out the ice time further into the season?
Here are the updated per-game ice time numbers through Wednesday night's victory over Colorado:
What differences are there from the averages at 12 games? The ice time averages have actually gone down for Keith (by four seconds), Seabrook (by 38 seconds), Oduya (by 12 seconds) and Hjalmarsson (by seven seconds). Meanwhile, Leddy (up 15 seconds) and Rozsival (up 1:21 per game) have seen their ice time increase.
As the short season continues, the ability for the Blackhawks to skate six defensemen big minutes in any situation should make an enormous impact on the team's ability to close games out (and, on rare occasion, come back).
With those numbers in mind, let's grade the defensemen.
24 games, 1 goal, 11 assists, 12 points
Keith has looked more like the Norris Trophy-winning player than at any point since the Hawks won the Cup in the early going this season. He had seven assists in the season's second quarter, and now has 37 blocked shots. There have certainly been moments of frustration, but his overall play has been noticeably improved this year.
23 games, 3 goals, 7 assists, 10 points
Seabrook started the year slowly, but has certainly found his legs in the second quarter. He's tied for tenth in the NHL with 57 blocked shots and is tied for 19th in the league with 50 hits. Wednesday night may have been his most physical performance to date, but his consistency continues to improve.
24 games, 1 goals, 4 assists, 5 points
Hjalmarsson ranks 13th in the NHL with 55 blocked shots and is plus-ten on the season. His improvement from last continues to be a huge factor in the improved performance of this entire group, and his ability to play in big situations with Johnny Oduya has earned Quenneville's confidence.
24 games, 0 goals, 8 assists, 8 points
Oduya is tied for 15th in the NHL with 50 blocked shots to date and his plus-12 rating ranks fourth in the league. As we mentioned above, his play with Hjalmarsson has given the coaching staff options throughout games, leading to the significant reduction in ice time for both Keith and Seabrook.
24 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points
Quietly, Leddy is plus-ten on the season and he has been credited with 22 blocked shots. His ice time increased in the season's second quarter, as has his confidence; he's one of the fastest skaters in the league, and has done a much better job carrying the puck deep into the offensive zone when given the opportunity.
13 games, 0 goals, 7 assists, 7 points
Rozsival is plus-11 in only 13 games this year and has, for the most part, been a great bottom-pair defenseman. He saw the most significant increase in individual ice time in the second quarter, and his offensive contributions have been an unexpected addition to his usually-strong, stay-at-home game.
14 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points
Brookbank has spent some (read: very little) time as a "12th forward" in recent games, but his numbers haven't been huge. He has the team's worst plus-minus (minus-two) and still hasn't registered a point. When asked to be a physical presence on the ice, however, Brookbank has been effective.
The Blackhawks might have the deepest group of defensemen in the NHL, and they're all playing well. Consider that only 12 defensemen in the league are at least plus-ten, and four of them are Blackhawks (Oduya, Rozsival, Leddy, Hjalmarsson). And only 17 defensemen have blocked at least 50 shots, three of which are Hawks (Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya). Chicago's penalty kill is now second in the NHL (89.0 percent), and this group has done a much better job clearing rebounds and loose pucks left around the front of the net as well.