The second line is certainly the place to be on an NHL bench. Expectations and ice time are certainly high, and the pride associated with a player earning their way into the top six is unmatched.
Youth being thrust into pivotal roles has been the formula for the Chicago Blackhawks‘ success since the franchise resurged, combining speed and finesse with understated physicality, as well as youth with strategically-placed veterans.
One of those strategically-placed veterans was second-line center Michal Handzus, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year and had a Cinderella-like postseason en route to lifting his first career Stanley Cup.
However, the clock may have struck midnight on Handzus’s career resurgence, and the man ringing the bell is Brandon Pirri. While Handzus has been hurt (and there is no reason to believe he will not continue to be injured more often as he ages), Pirri has come up big, and proven to just about everyone that he is NHL-ready right now.
On the fourth line, Pirri has made the personnel group of Brandon Bollig, Ben Smith or Marcus Kruger (depending on the shift) better, the true mark of a center operating their position on the ice with confidence.
Last night against the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks played their most successful overall game of the season, and the second line which Pirri was at the helm of filled up the stat sheet. Pirri ended the night with two assists, while Sheldon Brookbank, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane all ended up with goals.
Coach Joel Quenneville loves switching up lines depending on situation and matchups, but in both Pirri and new addition Brad Mills, he may have found a bit of consistency. That being said, one game will never make a season. But the Blackhawks have the good fortune (discovering personnel-wise) of playing back-to-back nights.
Tonight will truly determine where Pirri fits into this team. The center position is full, but thanks to Pirri’s outstanding play as of late, he has certainly earned himself a roster spot no matter what.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486.