One preseason game at the end of September, being played before a large yet tame crowd at the United Center, could drastically determine the career paths of two bright young stars. It will also affect the immediate future of a resurrected veteran.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, the choice between a radical change or the preservation of the formula that aided in winning a second Stanley Cup in four years, is a choice that cannot be taken seriously enough.
Michael Handzus was the second line center last season, and despite initial signs of panic and desperation when the team brought back Handzus midseason, the former San Jose Shark had a bit of a revival in his second Chicago stint, including a major role in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This season the team has plenty of important roster decisions to make, although far less than the 2010-11 campaign brought on. The major change came with the announcement that Brandon Saad would be moved to center by Coach Joel Quenneville, an experiment that may or may not transition to the regular season.
The next move for the ‘Hawks is to determine who takes over the third line wing spot left by the departed Viktor Stalberg. The two players most likely left in the mix are Brandon Pirri, the AHL’s leading scorer and a natural center, and Jeremy Morin, a flashy winger with an incredible shot who more resembles Stalberg’s style of play.
Pirri is well known around the Blackhawks’ organization as a legitimate second line center, even right now, with minimal NHL experience. Morin, meanwhile, has 15 total games of NHL games, and three goals to go along with two assists.
But what gives Morin a distinct advantage in my opinion, is his national team experience. With the under-18 team, Morin grew as a player to lead in goals and points during the 2008-2009 campaign. Last season, Morin put eight more pucks in the back of the net than Pirri, although Pirri’s 58 assists from the center position are impressive.
Looking forward, the team will have the opportunity to get both Morin and Pirri significant ice time, depending on the health of Michael Handzus and if Brandon Saad remains at the center position for an extended amount of time. As long as the team can keep both Morin and Pirri happy, the future will continue to look bright for the Blackhawks.
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