Despite their status as the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks will head into the 2013-14 season in a situation that eerily reflects what they’ve dealt with over the course of the last several years: a need for a second line center.
The Hawks’ need for a man in the middle of that second unit is well-documented. They attempted to fill it with the now-departed Dave Bolland, and Michal Handzus filled in admirably down the stretch and in the playoffs. But he’ll be running the pivot on the fourth line next year.
Which leaves a few different available candidates. Brandon Saad has been mentioned as a potential centerman for that second unit, while Marcus Kruger is also a candidate. But the man that most of us will be watching when training camp rolls around is Brandon Pirri.
Pirri has been a guy on the fringe of cracking the big club for the last couple of years, but it won’t be until this season that he’ll see his true shot. He’s coming off a terrific season, in which he notched 75 points in 76 games with the Rockford Icehogs, 53 o f those points coming via the helper.
He has enough professional experience at this point that one would have to imagine that he’s the favorite for the spot, even over a guy like Saad, despite his upside. Whether or not Pirri is capable of logging the heavy minutes required of a second line center, however, remains to be seen.
Pirri’s upside is that of a top six forward. Whether or not he can make that jump in 2013-14 is what we’ll be watching. He has excellent hands and is a terrific playmaker in the middle. He’d benefit from playing between the likes of Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. He certainly deserves the first shot, but as for whether he can hold down that spot for an extended period of time, we’ll just have to wait and see.