Over the Olympic break I’ll be doing daily reviews of Chicago Blackhawks players and giving them a grade based on their seasons to date. Today we examine Brandon Bollig.
Bollig has been a mainstay on Chicago’s fourth line this year, having already played in more NHL games in 2013-14 (60) than he had in his entire career going into the campaign (43). He has looked like a different player for the Blackhawks this season after evidently putting in tremendous time to improve his skating and puck handling during the 2013 offseason.
Strictly in terms of production, Bollig has been a revelation. He is on pace for eight goals which is a nice number for a fourth line player who does not get power play time. Offensive output is a mostly peripheral factor as far as evaluating a player in Bollig’s position, but the fact that he is providing some anyway is a bonus.
He leads the Blackhawks in hits despite minimal ice time, an unambiguous representation that Bollig is doing precisely what Joel Quenneville and Chicago’s coaching staff ask of him. The Blackhawks are one of the least physical teams in the NHL, and with the comparatively docile Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith as the other two members of the fourth line, the need for Bollig to throw his weight around becomes even greater.
At 6-foot-3 and 215-pounds, Bollig seems to have figured out how to optimally use his large frame in the offensive zone to protect the puck around the boards. The byproduct of this has been the development of an unanticipated strong cycle game with Kruger and Smith, something most teams would be ecstatic to get out of their fourth line.
Nevertheless, Bollig’s improvement in 2013-14 has not been universal; he still has a tendency to take unnecessary, often selfish penalties. In fairness, he is not alone; Patrick Sharp is guilty of this as well. Conflated with Chicago’s weak penalty kill, consistent unnecessary infractions are a significant problem and something Bollig would do well to remove from his game.
Final Verdict: B+. The difference between this year’s Bollig and that of past seasons is like night and day, but the ill-advised penalties keep him from an A.