Six Blackhawks to watch in playoffs
April, 15, 2014
By Scott Powers
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesBryan Bickell's emergence in the playoffs will be key to the Blackhawks' chances.Here are six players aside from the Chicago Blackhawks' stars who will need to step up their production in the playoffs:
Bryan Bickell, forward
The Blackhawks don't likely win the Stanley Cup without Bickell's emergence in the playoffs last season. He had an ordinary regular season with nine goals and 14 assists in 48 games last season. In the playoffs, he was a different player. With nine playoffs goals, he accounted for 14 percent of the Blackhawks' scoring during their Cup run. He was also second on the team with 17 points and second with a plus-12 rating. More was expected of Bickell this regular season after his playoff performance and a new contract, but he was deterred by a slow start and a knee injury. He finished with 11 goals, four assists and a minus-6 rating in 59 games. His play has improved in the past month. He's had a Corsi percentage (shots for vs. shots against) of 56.5 percent or higher in nine of his past 10 games, according to extraskater.com. He's also had three or more shots on goal in four of the past seven games.
Nick Leddy, defenseman
Leddy had a rough go in the playoffs last season. He had zero goals, two assists and a minus-8 rating in 23 playoff games. He fell out of favor with Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville late in the Stanley Cup finals and played just 2:37, 6:53 and 3:25 in the final three games of the series. He regained Quenneville's faith this season. He had seven goals, 24 assists, a plus-10 rating and averaged 16:22 of ice time in 82 games. He's also had a 57.1 Corsi percentage. He'll likely be paired with Michal Rozsival in the playoffs again.
Michal Rozsival, defenseman
Rozsival was in and out of the lineup throughout the regular season and was a permanent fixture in the playoffs last season. That likely will be the case again this season. The Blackhawks now hope he can be as consistent as he was in the playoffs last season. Among the players who played 20-plus playoff games last season, he was fifth on the team with a 57.4 Corsi percentage (Blackhawks had 382 shots for, 284 against when he was on the ice) in 5-on-5 situations. He averaged 19:16 of ice time during the playoffs. This season Rozsival has played in 42 games. Between an injury and additional rest, he's played in nine games since he returned from the Olympics. He hasn't played more than two consecutive games since prior to the Olympic break and has played in more than two consecutive games during just two spans this season. He has been solid when he's played this season. He has a 58.8 Corsi (620 shots for, 435 shots against), which is 2.7 percent higher than when he's not on the ice.
Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY SportsThe Blackhawks need Brandon Saad to take a big step in his second playoffs.
Brandon Saad, forward
Not much was expected of Saad in the playoffs last season because he was still a rookie. From a possession standpoint, he held his own. When he was on the ice in 5-on-5 situations in the playoffs, the Blackhawks had 330 shots for and 207 against. But he didn't produce much, with one goal, five assists and a minus-1 rating in 23 playoff games. A season later, the Blackhawks need Saad to be better than that. He was often a key contributor to the Blackhawks throughout this season. He was sixth on the team with 40 points, which included 19 goals. To produce in the playoffs, he's going to need to find more consistency to his game than what he's provided lately. Since suffering an injury in mid-March, he hasn't scored in the past 10 games and had a minus-9 rating during that span. His possession numbers have also dropped. He's had a 60 Corsi percentage or higher in 30 games this season, and 28 of those occurred prior to his injury.
Ben Smith, forward
Smith was recalled at the end of last season and got into one playoff game -- Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals -- when Marian Hossa was scratched due to an injury. Smith will have a much larger role this season. Of the Blackhawks' fourth-line players, Smith is the one who provides the most consistent offense. He's seventh on the team with 14 goals and is riding a hot streak into the playoffs. He's scored goals in four of the past six games. He'll also continue to be relied upon defensively. His shifts have started 47.5 percent of the time in the defensive zone. Smith has excelled in the postseason before; he helped Boston College to two NCAA titles, and he had three goals in seven games for the Blackhawks in the 2011 playoffs.
Kris Versteeg, forward
The Blackhawks were hoping Versteeg could be the same player he was for them the last time around when they traded for him in November. That hasn't been the case. He's had positive spurts, but he's also been inconsistent. He admitted he came back from his knee injury too soon and will need another offseason to strengthen it to be closer to his old self. Since the Olympic break, he's had three goals and five assists. His possession numbers have also varied since the break. He's had 15 games with a Corsi percentage of above 50 percent and eight games below. Traditionally, he has played well in the postseason, with 14 goals, 23 assists and a plus-2 rating in 57 career playoff games.