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Thursday, May 21, 2009
Killer B's moving forward for Hawks

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

CHICAGO -- There's so much more to the Chicago Blackhawks' forward group than the marquee names.

Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat, Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg get most of the attention, but the Killer B's have been just as much a part of the success in these playoffs for the young squad.

Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien aren't household names yet, but you'll be hearing a lot about these guys in years to come. Let us get you acquainted with them:

Dave Bolland
Dave Bolland has nine points in 14 playoff games for the Blackhawks.

Dave Bolland

If one play can be telling in a player's progression, Bolland's Game 2 strip of the puck from Henrik Zetterberg to create a great short-handed scoring chance would be it. It's not a move just any player can pull off against one of the world's best.

"Before you may have been a little hesitant to do it, but now it's not a big deal," Bolland told ESPN.com on Thursday on the eve of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

The 22-year-old center, who was a second-round pick (32nd overall) in the 2004 NHL draft, had a career-high 19 goals and 47 points in 81 games this regular season, his second in the NHL. He has nine points (4-5) in 14 playoff games, including a game-winner against Vancouver in the second round.

"He's one of the young guys that is key for us," said linemate Havlat. "He's been a big asset for us."

Bolland centers the second line between Havlat and Andrew Ladd. He's a smart, two-way player who has a nose for the net and the smarts to put himself in the right spots on the ice.

"He's been progressing every game during the whole regular season and playoffs," said Havlat. "I've been playing with him basically since Game 17 or 18 this year. He's been great. A lot of fun to play with him. He plays both ways. He's been on the penalty kill the whole year and on the power play lately. He's been a very important player for us."

In his rookie season, Bolland wanted to show he belonged and focused on the defensive part of his game -- always a must to impress an NHL coaching staff. He had four goals and 13 assists in 39 games in his rookie season and returned to camp with the mindset to take the next step.

"I think this year when I came in, I wanted to show them more of my offensive skills and I think I have shown that," he said.

Hawks GM Dale Tallon spent the first half of the season looking for a center to play on his second line. Eventually, he began to realize that player was right under his nose -- Bolland. Being paired up with a star winger like Havlat most of the season has helped his development.

"He's a phenomenal player, a world-class player," Bolland said of Havlat. "I've learned a few things from him and what he does out there helps me as well."

Roommate Ben Eager, by the way, found a nickname for Bolland.

"It's pretty funny," said Bolland. "They all call me Greyhound. I think it's for my physique."

As in, all skin and bones. When you see the 6-foot, 180-pound Bolland without his equipment on, you feel like running to McDonald's and ordering him three Big Macs. He's a skinny dude. But a talented one.

Troy Brouwer
Troy Brouwer has spent some time on the Hawks' top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the West finals.

Troy Brouwer

Brouwer is a versatile rookie for the Hawks. He has sometimes skated on the fourth line with Adam Burish and Eager this postseason, but also on the top line with Kane and Toews, where he was again Thursday at practice.

"I played a good chunk of the season with Kane and Toews, so I feel pretty comfortable with those guys," said the 23-year-old Vancouver native. "To be able to play with Burish and Eager, you play a simple game. They're easy to play with. It's not too much of a stretch. I've been able to play with both groups of guys. As a transition, I can hopefully do it pretty seamlessly."

When the puck dropped for the Western Conference finals, he was on the top line again with Kane and Toews.

"When the coach has enough confidence for you [to] do it in the conference finals, that really gets my confidence up," said Brouwer.

While the first-line assignment may have surprised some, keep in mind Brouwer scored 49 goals in his final junior year with the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors in 2005-06, followed by 41 with the AHL's Norfolk Admirals in 2006-07 and 35 with the AHL's Rockford Icehogs in 2007-08.

"I've been known to score, obviously," said Brouwer, who popped in 10 goals this season in his rookie NHL campaign. "But at the NHL level, it's a bit different. There's a bit less time, guys are bigger, goalies are better, it's quite a bit tougher to score. I feel like I came into the league this year and did OK for myself.

"I would have liked to put up a couple of more goals, but being in a goal-scoring role isn't too much a stretch for me. It's been awhile since I've scored, but I can do it."

He's yet to bulge the twine in the postseason. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Brouwer, Chicago's seventh-round pick (214th overall) in 2004, is your prototypical power forward in the making. He has a player he's trying to model his game after.

"I know he's on the other team, but a guy like [Johan] Franzen," Brouwer said of the star Red Wings forward. "He's a big power forward who gets in the corners, grinds it out, has a scoring ability and is one of the go-to guys. That's what I'm kind of going for.

"I've got the big part, now I just need the scoring part," he added with a laugh. "Hopefully within the next season or two, I can find my scoring touch again."

Dustin Byfuglien
Dustin Byfuglien was Chicago's eighth-round pick (245th overall) in the 2003 NHL draft.

Dustin Byfuglien

The 24-year-old Minneapolis native is a beast. When his equipment is off, you are awed by his muscular build. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound winger has the body of a guy who could carry the ball in the NFL. Instead, Byfuglien has discovered that crashing the net is a decent way to make a living, as well. He drove the Vancouver Canucks crazy in the second round and distracted goalie Roberto Luongo. Now, he's trying to do the same with the Wings and Chris Osgood.

"Tough to move him around, get him out of that area," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday. "I think Buff has been good in the series -- not just getting to the front of the net, but his size and physical presence. I thought he improved, like a lot of our guys, after the first game. He's been annoying for some guys at the net, where he's more effective. When he does get there, he poses a threat."

Byfuglien, Chicago's eighth-round pick (245th overall) in 2003, actually dipped from 19 goals last season to 15 this season, adjusting to playing full time at forward after spending more of his career on defense.

"It's been a learning process all year," said Byfuglien. "It's been an up-and-down year for myself. I didn't have the best season, but I learned a lot. I'm playing my first season as a forward. It's been an interesting year."

He's really come along in these playoffs, putting up eight points (3-5) in 14 games and learning game by game that he's hard to contain down low. He's learning to be a power forward.

"He's come a long way," said his linemate Versteeg. "You see during the season there were some struggles, but that's going to come with changing positions. He's changed over very well and you see during the playoffs he's gotten a little more intense and stepped up his game. That's what he's going to do if he's going to be successful in the league."

Byfuglien, Brouwer and Bolland -- just three more young faces in a Hawks core that's scary good. So much so that Tallon and the Chicago front office will have their work cut out to keep them all together in this salary-cap system.

"I think if we're able to keep the team relatively the same, obviously there will be a few personnel changes every year, but if we keep the core the same, there's no telling what this team can do," said Brouwer. "It's the first year we've been together really, and look how far we've come so far. If they're able to keep us together, we're going to be a pretty good team and a contender for years to come."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.