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And So It Begins — ’13-’14 Hawks Preview: Who Will Be Missed Most?

With actual blades hitting actual ice today, and the temperature dropping below Bikram yoga in hell, it actually feels just a little bit like hockey is pretty close. Not so you could reach out and touch it, but soon enough.

Today I’m going to make up my own question to answer, because that’s just the guy I am. And it addresses who the Hawks will miss most that is gone from last year’s team.

Essentially, this question boils down to Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, (update: And Viktor Stalberg) or Ray Emery. Jamal Mayers had become barely a bit player, Dan Carcillo was only good for coming up with a pretty amazing nickname for a completely useless player, and the entire defense returns.

No one was harder on Dave Bolland than this blog. And last year, that was easy to do. It wasn’t hard to highlight the possession numbers and metrics to show that he was a complete black hole. The faceoff numbers were a career-long slog. Even that checking center weasel we had come to love faded into the background as he took either more scoring line shifts or lost that duty to Shaw and/or Kruger.

However, it’s easy to forget that in the three of the previous four years, Bolland put up 15+ goals from a third line role (mostly). The one year he didn’t was when he missed half the year due to back surgery. A lot of teams would love to have a 3rd center chipping in that much scoring.

And it’s hard to picture Marcus Kruger being able to replicate that scoring rate. While Kruger does have hands around the net and a willingness to get there, as well as a knack for scoring big goals, he just hasn’t exhibited enough dented twine to think he’ll tickle 20 goals or that he’ll be a significantly better playmaker than Bolland. Remember, when on, Bolland might have been the Hawks best passer from around the goal line behind Kane. He really could open up the game there.

As for his defensive game, it’s up for debate how much he benefited from taking most of his shifts in front of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Unquestionably, he did get some of their gloss to rub off on him. Kruger doesn’t have the snarl, but does have the positional IQ. There may be some drop-off here, but not a whole lot.

When Q finally stopped jerking around Michael Frolik and gave him a role to play last year, he became quite the weapon on the 4th line. Sure, he still has no finish to speak of (unless it’s a penalty shot in the playoffs), but his motor that never stopped and fearlessness is going to be hard to replicate. Fro spent a lot of time playing against 3rd and 4th liners that were much bigger than him, but it never stopped him from going into corners and behind the net to disrupt. He also could give you spot duty on the top six when injuries struck.

I feel like Jeremy Morin has the best chance of being this guy, but it’s not a role he’s accustomed to (though neither was Frolik really until he did it). Morin has more bite to his game now, but obviously that comes with a concussion risk. He also does have actual finish, and might convert more chances if he can create anywhere near the same amount that Frolik did.

On the kill where Fro did his most yeoman work, that’s harder to project. While I think Ben Smith will get a full-time role on that unit, I think it’s Brandon Saad who will be first called upon with Kruger. Saad has the better wheels and the valentine cards from Q, and it’ll lessen Smith’s burden on what should be his first full year in the NHL. But matching what Frolik and Kruger were able to do together is a tall order (though Saad won’t win any more draws than Kruger).

Oh right, I should probably talk about Viktor Stalberg too, huh? Y’know, because I was probably his biggest fan? Let’s do that:

In a sense, Stalberg was a faster version of Frolik with more finish. When he finally found a role, it was as a harassing forechecker who swallowed up the gap between he and retreating defensemen faster than they could make a decision and then creating off of that. When he kept his game straight-line, he was pretty destructive.

Again, this might be something Jeremy Morin could do, but would seem better fitted for Brandon Saad when this whole stupid center experiment ends. Saad already has the defensive IQ to play on a 3rd line, and maybe it would be a good way to lessen expectations and burden in what can be a tough sophomore year (and first full one in the NHL).

As for Emery, while he was excellent in his role, we’re still talking about a backup goalie that shouldn’t be needed for more than 25 games. 17-1 and a 1.94 GAA look pretty awesome admittedly, Emery saw barely 24 shots per game. If Khabibulin sees the same amount of flung rubber, one would imagine he could do enough to keep the Hawks in most every game if not better. Assuming he can see straight.

–Oh hey, look, our Training Camp Preview Issue is out! You can have it!

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