After another strong performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Bollig has all but cemented his status as one-third of what is arguably the best fourth line in the NHL. Nearly all of Bollig’s seven goals have been of the timely variety, and he’s added seven assists as well. I have my qualms with the contract extension that the Blackhawks just handed him, but they are purely for salary cap reasons only. Bollig has earned every penny of the new deal, and his play is even more impressive when one takes a look at just how far he’s come.
The 2011-12 season was Bollig’s first in the NHL, and it perhaps could best be described as a “quiet disaster.” The former part of the description comes primarily from the fact that Bollig’s lack of ice time when he did make it into the lineup was very limited (six minutes per game). The second part, however, is a direct reference to the burly winger’s atrocious play in those six minutes per game; Bollig was too slow to be a consistent physical presence, had zero utility on the offensive end and didn’t seem to understand his defensive responsibilities as a winger.
2012-13 did not transpire any better. Bollig played in a higher percentage of Chicago’s games, but that is attributable to Joel Quenneville being a fan of his more than anything else. His impact while on the ice was still decidedly negative, and scores of Blackhawks fans were calling for him to be a permanent healthy scratch.
The ensuing summer, however, saw Bollig take a great leap forward. Parsing together various stories, it seems as if Bollig took it upon himself to become a legitimate NHL-level contributor during the offseason and adjusted his practice habits as such. That is to say, he worked intensively on his puck handling, skating and positioning to protect the puck on the boards. My best guess would be that Bollig was a film rat over the summer as well — his improvement in both offensive and defensive zone positioning has been perhaps more striking than anything else.
Chicago now has yet another quality player on their hands. Bollig deserves props for making the commitment he has, and the organization deserves some as well for their patience. Many wanted him gone during past seasons — myself included — but he has proven us unmistakably wrong.