Before sending my Chicago Blackhawks wish list to Santa, I want to address a claim made in my last blog about the Blackhawks goaltending situation. Antii Raanta’s bounceback performance against the Kings proves two things to me. One, the kid has a short memory and showed great mental toughness in coming back from a tough outing against the Maple Leafs. Two, he’s making a pretty good case to stay in Chicago once Corey Crawford returns from injury. One of the Blackhawk’s biggest assets last year was being able to turn to Ray Emery and let Corey Crawford stay fresh. With the disappointing performance of Nikolai Khabibulin and the recent acquisition of Jason LaBarbera, Raanta has certainly showed no reason why he doesn’t belong in the NHL. I still think his long term development will be better suited with consistent playing time, but I’m a bigger proponent of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
With Christmas time approaching soon, here is what I have on my wish list for the Hawks.
1.) Veteran Center
Despite center Michal Handzus’ statuesque skating speed, he brings a lot to the table. As a great penalty killer, faceoff specialist, and penchant for driving to the net, he provides the Hawks with a wide pallet of skills that make them a well rounded team.
Unfortunately Handzus is 36 years old and has already missed time due to injury this season. I would like to see the Blackhawks make a similar transaction like they did last year at the deadline to acquire Handzus. Not only will a veteran center provide extra depth to this team, it will allow for Handzus to take time off and keep him as fresh as possible for the playoffs. While Brandon Pirri was certainly an adept fill in while Handzus was out, I have a hard time believing Coach Q wants him as the second line center come playoff time should Handzus not be able to go.
Reasonable targets would include guys like Manny Malhotra, Jay McClement, Marcel Goc.
2.) Bring On The Youth
Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Joakim Nordstrom, Antii Raanta, Kent Simpson. All those players spent some time in Rockford this year and have appeared in a game for the Blackhawks. Smith, Morin, and Pirri especially have had several cups of coffee at the NHL level with Smith appearing to be the only player to stick.
Let’s rewind back to the 2010-2011 campaign when Smith, Marcus Kruger, and Nick Leddy played in a handful of games for the Hawks while splitting time in Rockford and in the 2011-2012 season when Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw made their Blackhawk debuts. Although most of the aforementioned players did not make a large impact (save for Smith in the 2011 playoff series against Vancouver), it’s no doubt that the exposure to the pace of NHL hockey helped them.
I would like to see the Blackhawks take similar action with their higher rated prospects like Philip Danault, Mark McNeill, and Teuvo Teravainen. These three are all first round picks and are highly thought of within the organization. With the Hawks set to make a playoff run, letting these three get some playing time at the end of the year could pay dividends a couple of years from now as it has with Saad, Shaw, Smith, Kruger, and Leddy.
On their run to a Stanley Cup championship last year, the Blackhawks rode a fortune of good health. This year the team has had many players miss games due to injuries. The list includes Marian Hossa, Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus, Michal Roszival, Michael Kostka, Corey Crawford, and Nikolai Khabibulin.
Thankfully the team has been able to continue its strong play in spite of some of these injuries. While many injuries are unavoidable, the playoffs tend to leave teams with many injured players. The Blackhawks will be much better off if they are able to come into the playoffs at full health.
What is on your wish list for the Blackhawks this holiday season?