Moving back into our Hawks’ centric season preview, we go to Dennis Kiley who asked what the 4th line will look like this time around.
For most teams this isn’t that important a question. But it is for the Hawks for a couple reasons. One, it’s likely that the Hawks will once again use their 4th line differently than most if not all teams. Second, not all teams are staring down the Kings again and their total depth, which may have been the difference between winning and losing last year and could be again this one (not to mention the Blues, Sharks, and Ducks are going to be pretty deep at forward themselves).
As for usage, last season was the first time that Quenneville seriously trotted out the “3+1” model, instead of the normal “2+1+1” that had been used since the beginning of time it seemed. There were a couple reasons for this. One, Q had more scoring talent at his disposal than most coaches get which left two pretty excellent two-way forwards only on the 4th line in Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger (and then a clod on the other side that went along for the ride until things really mattered).
Q will probably get to do so again, and possibly with even more talent. How the 4th line shakes out depends on how the Hawks get under this cap crunch they’re currently in. If Versteeg or Bickell is launched, it makes the situation pretty clearer. Also if Teuvo makes the team will factor this out, but most of the results are positive.
For argument’s sake, let’s say Teuvo doesn’t make the team out of camp, or does but is deployed on a wing. Q has shown an affection for Andrew Shaw at center, even though he looks better as a wing. It’s a safe bet that Shaw would center the 3rd line, between Bickell and Versteeg if he’s still with us. If not, that could be Morin’s spot.
That leaves Marcus Kruger to anchor the 4th line, which you can bet is the way that Q wants it because he’s going to want to use this line as a checking line. We can guess Ben Smith will be along again, though used as a swiss army knife up and down the lineup when injuries hit (it’s a fun toy to have). The other wing spot could see a host of people from Joakim Nordstrom to Versteeg to Morin to Peter Regin to other call-ups. But obviously, you’d trust a Smith-Kruger-Regin/Nordstrom/Morin unit to do just about whatever is asked. As long as Smith and Kruger are around, things should be ok.
It’s if Teuvo makes the team that things get interesting. You wouldn’t have him on the 4th line, as that’s not his game no matter how it’s deployed. If Teuvo would see Shaw slide down to the 4th line, or possibly Morin, you could argue that Shaw-Kruger-Smith would be just about the best 4th line in the game. And capable of anything, because all three are solid enough in their own end to take on tougher assignments, allowing a line of Morin-Teuvo-Bickell to get absolute batting practice shifts.
Here’s another funny nugget for the 4th line, and specifically Ben Smith. He shot 15.6% last year, which seems high. But looking over his AHL career, the lowest he shot down there was 17%. He shot 20% in ’12-’13 at the Rock. When thinking about Smith’s game, his instincts, and the theory that almost all of his shots come from three feet and in and his nose for the net, you wouldn’t think there should be a huge drop off. 15+ goals is hardly a pipe dream.
However it shakes out, unless Q gets way too cute for his own good (a constant threat) the Hawks should be among the deepest teams in the league with the unique ability to flip how they disperse their lineup and utilize it.