As frustrating as the 2010-11 season may have been for the Blackhawks and their fans to watch at times, there may have not been a more frustrating single player than Bryan Bickell.
Just to clarify, it’s not as if Bickell was expected to come in and set the world on fire. It was to be his first full season in the NHL, after appearing in the previous three seasons, in a total of 23 combined games.
Bickell’s role wasn’t expected to be one that involved regular playing time on the top line. Sure, when the team needed some size in the top six and Troy Brouwer wasn’t cutting it, Bickell was a prime candidate. But after playing in 78 games, Bickell has yet to prove himself as an asset to this team.
It’s not that Bickell isn’t talented. He can be a very solid winger in the bottom six. It’s the fact that he has as much size as he does, but plays like he’s the size of Patrick Kane.
The Blackhawks lost their big net presence in Dustin Byfuglien last summer, and there were those that were hoping it would be Bickell to assume that role. Given the fact that he’s 6’4″ and 223 lbs, that’s certainly a fair assumption. While we saw him flash the brawn at some points during the season, it wasn’t on a regular basis. And as slow as he is, there’s no way for Bickell to play anything other than a physical game.
After those frustrations carried throughout the regular season, it was against the Canucks in Round 1 of the playoffs that we finally saw Bickell get physical. He played in five of the seven games of the series before his wrist injury cost him Game 7, and he laid 22 hits on the hated Vancouver squad.
Whether it was the fact that it was the Canucks and Bickell was pumped up, or he finally realized that he is a large individual is unknown, but we can only hope it’s the latter. If Bickell uses that side, he has a very solid shot and could prove to be a major presence in the bottom six.
We know that Joel Quenneville is going to shuffle the lines all throughout the season, but we also have a pretty decent idea as to what the line combinations could look like on Opening Night against Dallas.
If Patrick Sharp centers the second line to start, as expected, that will mean Dave Bolland will be in the middle on that third line. Bolland will center a line that will most likely feature Bickell and Michael Frolik on either side of him.
The idea of those three playing should be a reason for optimism among Blackhawks fans. The three played together in much of the Vancouver series and proved to be a pretty potent line, with an ability to play strong defense and surprisingly well on offense. The three combined for 15 points in the three games that all of them were in the lineup for.
All in all, Bickell has the potential to be a major asset to the Blackhawks. With Byfuglien obviously long gone, and Troy Brouwer having been traded to Washington this offseason, Bickell is one of the few big bodied guys left with the potential to be a strong offensive contributor. Andrew Brunette figures to see some time early on the power play and in front of the net for the top line, but don’t be surprised to see Quenneville throwing Bickell out there to do some of the dirty work, if he proves that he can play his size consistently.