Handzus showed during the team’s Stanley Cup run last season he could be reliable and produce in that role. He had three goals, eight assists and a plus-7 rating in 23 playoff games.
But heading into this season, Quenneville was open to experimenting with Brandon Saad in that spot to keep him a top-6 forward, and also to giving Brandon Pirri, who led the AHL in scoring last season, a shot there. After two weeks of training camp, the Saad experiment failed and Pirri missed four preseason games due to injury.
And now, Quenneville is again turning to Handzus to be the Blackhawks’ second-line center.
Handzus centered the second line alongside wingers Patrick Sharp and Jimmy Hayes during practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West on Wednesday. Hayes is expected to be replaced by Marian Hossa on the second line when Hossa is healthy again.
“He did such a good job for us last year in all of those big games,” Quenneville said of Handzus on Wednesday. “One thing about Handzus is he can make plays, he can see plays. Both sides of the puck, his instincts are in the right spot. I think he quietly went about his business when he came here, and his production was almost a point in every other game, [which] in the role that he had was a very high number. [He] could take faceoffs, big body, very useful.”
Handzus was pleased to hear Quenneville has confidence in him, but the 36-year-old has been around the league too long to get too comfortable.
“Obviously, you want it for sure,” Handzus said on Wednesday. “You’re playing with great players, and you’re playing in an offensive role. But you got to prove it you can play there. It doesn’t matter what happened last year. You got to prove it this year. If I get a chance, I got to grab it and go with it.”
Handzus credited his teammates for making him look good on the second line last season. But he also understands what he’s supposed to do in that role.
“I played with great players,” Handzus said. “Either [Patrick Kane] or [Sharp, Hossa,] they’re good players. Just get them the puck. A lot of times it wasn’t about me, but about them playing great. Try to help them as much as I can, give them the puck, make room for them and play defensively. That’s how I approach it. I obviously think I create a little bit.”
Handzus did practice on Wednesday, but he has missed all five of the preseason games as he continues to recover from two offseason surgeries. He played with a broken wrist and a torn MCL during the Stanley Cup finals.
Handzus was unsure whether he'd play in the final preseason game on Saturday, but he said he felt good.
“Short summer, just trying to get as much work as you can,” Handzus said. “We played a lot of games in the playoffs, so we just decided to go slow [in the preseason.]”