One of the keys to any successful season is the play of the entire team from the healthy scratch ready to step up, to the highly paid stars that drive fans into a state of frenzy and anticipation. Anyone, however, can tell you that the backbone of a successful team is the fourth line, the often physical presence that also shows discipline on the penalty kill, a phase which can often decide a game.
The Chicago Blackhawks‘ fourth line has been one of the most revitalized parts of an overall revitalized franchise. Through trades, scouting, and excellent drafting, the minor league system in Rockford has seen a bevy of talented players go through its ranks.
Meanwhile, players such as Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom are proving to be undeniable assets on the ice. Kruger was acquired by the ‘Hawks in 2010 and made an inconspicuous debut with the team in 2011. 2012 was a revelation for the now 23 year old Kruger, who was not needed at center thanks to Dave Bolland, and he became a vital part of one of the league’s best penalty kill units with the now dispatched Michael Frolik. Since moving back to the fourth line center,and now entering the final year of his contract, Kruger has looked confident at the face-off circle, brightening his now clear future.
Joakim Nordstrom was one of the most refreshing surprises the Blackhawks have had arrive at camp in quite some time. The relatively unknown Swede surprised many at Notre Dame and won the fourth line job over Ben Smith thanks in large part to his versatility and size. Nordstrom looked right at home on NHL ice, registering two hits and two shots on goal in his NHL debut.
The final spot on the fourth line is rather surprisingly up in the air, for now at least. Ben Smith is an incredibly talented player who currently has to wait again, relegated to the healthy scratch role he has earned since becoming a playoff folk hero earlier in his career. It looked as if Smith would take the spot going into camp, but Nordstrom’s skyrocketing stock did him in.
Brandon Bollig’s quest to redefine himself as a player is off to a smooth start, as the physical forward tallied his first career goal in the season opener. Although a roughing penalty relegated Bollig to the sin bin and led to a Washington Capitals power play goal, Bollig’s spot is secure. He can continue to grow as a player on a fourth line which will see a significant amount of ice time.
That significant amount of ice time will be necessary as the fourth line can ideally remain on as the team’s penalty kill unit going forward. Although Captain Jonathan Toews anchored the penalty kill when needed, Marcus Kruger and Joakim Nordstrom should be able to step up as the season wears on, especially if paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya, who led the league’s bet PK last season. Despite facing the best power play in the league from last year, the Hawks’ PK was shredded, the only truly awful performance from Tuesday night’s game.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486