I wanted to take some time to discuss what I look for when examining the forward lines. This will be more of an opinion-based post, as I don’t have statistical evidence to back up my case. Young players like Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Tyler Motte have not played enough for me to use stats to back up my line theory. That being said, I do have certain things I look for this season that I will share today.
The first thing I look for is who is going to carry the puck up the ice. Who is going to dominate the puck in the offensive zone? Who is going to go to the net? It’s a puck possession game nowadays and I want to create lines where Chicago can control the puck. This focus on puck handlers might not always work for a grinding 4th line, but it has applications to the first three lines.
I focus on two puck handlers, because three can be a detriment. For example, the Panarin – Teravainen – Kane line last season. I had a feeling it wouldn’t work. Yes it’s exciting having so much skill on the ice at once, but there isn’t enough pucks to go around. Each forward likes to dominate the puck. There was a lack of versatility and that line really struggled. Likewise, a line with no puck handlers will result in poor play as well. In that case there will be mostly dump in offensive zone entries and turnovers. For me, a good mix of playing style is key.
In the NBA for example, a team isn’t going to play five pass first point guards together. There could be a pass first point guard, a three point specialist shooting guard, a defensive small forward, a rebounding power forward, and a low post offensive center. Versatility is key. Unless your Golden State, then you can just chuck three’s.
The second thing I look for, in relation to this years team, is where are the rookies. When the rookies have played on the same line, they have performed poorly. This is mostly true for Hinostroza and Schmaltz. When on a bottom-6 line together, they have struggled. One could guess that this might result from both of them feeling like they need to be the best player on the line. Maybe they try doing a little too much instead of letting the play come to them. Whatever it is, I would much rather have the rookies playing apart from each other. I would also like the rookies playing complementary roles instead of a leading role on their line.
When analyzing lines on this years team, I don’t look at three players forming one line. I instead look at two players forming a line and then adding a complementary rookie forward. In the past, Chicago had so much forward talent and depth that forming lines was easy. There was second line talent playing in the bottom-6 solely based on depth. This years team does not have that luxury. With depth scoring being a huge part of successful hockey teams, (think Sharp – Vermette – Teravainen line and the HBK Penguins line last season) Chicago needs to find a way to balance out their lines.
To balance the lines, I pick two players that mesh well for each of the top-3 lines.
- Toews – Kane
- Anisimov – Panarin
- Kruger – Hossa
Now, I will add a complementary rookie forward to each and discuss the lines I picked.
Hinostroza – Toews – Kane
Putting Toews and Kane on the same line together should help jumpstart Jonathan Toews who has been struggling to produce offensively. There isn’t much to analyze as these are two of the better players in the NHL. So lets talk about Hinostroza. Vinnie has a speed and playmaking skill set that should translate well in a top-6 role. On this line, the rookie wont have to worry about trying to be the best player on the line. Hinostroza and Kane can work off each other and dominate the puck, while Toews plays in front of the net like he has been doing lately. I’m not saying Hinostroza is a top-6 talent. He isn’t. I’m just saying his playing style could mesh well on this line.
I’m not really that picky about who plays with Toews and Kane because those two players are so good. One could sub in Richard Panik for Hinostroza and I would be fine with it. Panik does a good job of getting to the front of the net which would allow Toews to start playing more in space. One thing I don’t like about Toews is it seems he feels the need to be a 6 foot, 6 inch forward the plays in front of the net. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But Toews is a skilled player who can make plays out in space. Instead, he’s been getting in fights with opponents and staying in front of the net. It’s kind of like a stretch-4 in the NBA that can shoot from the outside. The power forward is a big man who might feel the need to play in the post when he’s actually better on the three point line. In Toews’ case, he’s playing down low more when he can als0 be extremely effective out in space.
The point of the Toews description is this. If Toews wants to play in front of the net, I’ll put him with Hinostroza and Kane. If Toews decides he needs to play more out in space in the offensive zone, I’ll sub in Panik for Hinostroza to be that net crashing player.
In the end, I selected Hinostroza because I believe putting him in a top-6 role best utilizes his capabilities. I also feel like Panik has the ability to provide some depth scoring in the bottom-6.
Panarin – Anisimov – Schmaltz
Again, I’m splitting up the rookies on separate lines. As this line would be losing Chicago’s best player in Patrick Kane, I wanted to give them Chicago’s most skilled rookie. Nick Schmaltz is a good puck handler and playmaker. Panarin and Schmaltz can play off each other while Anisimov goes to the net. This is basically what I look for offensively in lines. Which two players are going to play off eachother and which player is going to the net, win puck battles.
I like keeping Panarin with Anisimov for the lame reason that their both Russians and are able to communicate with each other well. They’ve also had plenty of experience playing together.
Here we have one of my favorite line setups in terms of playing style:
- Sniper – Panarin
- Big 2-Way Center – Anisimov
- Playmaker – Schmaltz
I feel like this line will be able to create offense even with the loss of Patrick Kane.
Motte – Kruger – Hossa
This will be the checking line that should still be able to add some depth scoring. Hossa will be able to go up against easier competition. Again, we only have one rookie on the line. Marcus Kruger will have a pair of wings that can score better than say Andrew Desjardins or Jordan Tootoo. This line should be responsible defensively and be able to handle defensive zone faceoffs while also scoring the occasional goal.
Panik – Rasmussen – Hartman
The fourth line provides the fourth and final rookie in Ryan Hartman. All four forward rookies are on separate lines where they don’t have to play the lead role. Hartman led the Rockford Icehogs in shots on goal per game last season. Richard Panik has shown a knack of getting to the net and scoring. Dennis Rasmussen is a quality fourth line center who can play low event hockey. Remember, Panik can switch with Hinostroza. I just feel like Panik can excel on a fourth line where Hinostroza wouldn’t excel down here. There is also Jordan Tootoo off the bench. He hasn’t been good in past seasons, but was a better option than Brandon Mashinter. Tootoo has surprised early on putting up good numbers on the Rasmussen – Kruger – Tootoo line.
There we have it. To recap:
- Hinostroza – Toews – Kane
- Panarin – Anisimov – Schmaltz
- Motte – Kruger – Hossa
- Panik – Rasmussen – Hartman
I currently am not a big fan of the Motte – Toews – Panik line. They are starting to play better together which could change my feelings on the matter. But on the surface, I don’t see enough puck carriers for a 1st line. This line is basically a checking line and that’s how they’ve scored early on. They get the puck in deep, put on a heavy forecheck, strip the puck, and score.
An example of this was Tyler Motte’s goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus had the puck in their defensive zone. On the forecheck, Richard Panik was able to poke check the puck away from the Blue Jacket puck carrier and towards Jonathan Toews and the net. Toews gets the puck and takes a shot right in front of the goalie. The puck is stopped but left as a juicy rebound for a crashing Tyler Motte. This is how that line can effectively score. Turning defense into quick offense.
The problem is I don’t know if that line can score enough. Panik has been hot lately, but he isn’t going to keep scoring on 75% of his shots on goal like he is now. I look at that line and ask myself, How is the puck getting moved up the ice? Who is working off each other? Panik and Motte are okay, but neither should be dominating the puck. Toews can handle the puck obviously, but he can’t do it all by himself. That’s why I would rather have a player like Schmaltz or Hinostroza instead of Tyler Motte. That way, Toews and lets say Hinostroza can work off of each other while Panik goes to the net. The Hinostroza – Toews- Panik line was a thing in one game and they put up good possession numbers.
Overall, I’d like to put Kane with Toews. But if Toews and Panik are going to be together, I’d rather put a forward that can handle the puck with them so the top line can play more of a possession game than a checking game like it is now.
That about wraps up what I want to say. This isn’t a normal Blackhawks Breakdown post as it is more random thoughts and no factual based evidence. These were all just my opinions. The lines could work or they could fail massively.
I might start writing more random thoughts posts like this. I love using evidence and charts to teach stats and help people make their own decisions. However, I often felt like some people might just like to hear what I think. No charts, no numbers, just what I feel about a subject. Obviously, I’m using stats to help formulate my opinions. Toews and Panarin, for instance, did not play well together last season. The numbers they put up together helped influence my opinion to keep them on separate lines.
So if this post goes well, I might add in more opinion based writing on top of my statistical writing. Either way, discussing lines is always a fun topic.
Which lines would you like to see?