Third line keeps the ‘Hawks strong

By Sam Bauman

Much has been made over the Chicago Blackhawks goaltending and star players this season, but an integral part of their success has been the production from the third line. The third line of the Hawks has been producing almost as much as the first two lines of the Hawks, something that gives the team a distinct advantage. The combination of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, and Viktor Stalberg has proven to be a force to be reckoned with.

Taking center on the line is second year player, and fifth-round draft pick Shaw. Shaw’s had productive numbers so far this season, scoring nine goals and tallying six assists. The second year player is also playing at an unfamiliar position. Shaw is naturally a right-winger, but the Hawks need for a third line center pushed him into the position to start the season. While he only wins 43.2% of his face-offs, among Blackhawks centers this is a pretty average number. While not the best player on the Hawks, or on his line, Shaw has played with maturity beyond his two years of experience.

Playing right wing is Stalberg. Stalberg, a former sixth round draft pick, was acquired in the 2010 trade for Kris Versteeg. During the stretch Stalberg has actually put up similar numbers to Versteeg, with each of them tallying over 40 points last season. Stalberg’s nine goals and 13 assists have him tied for sixth on the team in total points with fellow line mate Bickell. In addition to producing a significant part of the team’s points, Stalberg is also considered one of the team’s best skaters. Stalberg is arguably the fastest player on the ice, as well as one of the best puck handlers. His speed and puck skills are especially impressive when one considers that he is both taller and weighs more than the other top skaters on the team. At 6’3” and 209 pounds Stalberg is taller and weighs more than both Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, who are also considered top skaters on the team.

Finally, at left wing, there is Bickell. Bickell, the 2004 second round draft pick, is the line’s top scorer. With nine goals and 13 assists he is one point ahead of fellow line mate Stalberg. Bickell provides a big body presence that the Hawks need. He plays big and physical, but unlike Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo, Bickell can actually score. Bickell’s size, 6’4” and 233 pounds, makes him the biggest player on the team. This size helps him set screens and get down low to the net, a skill that the team has needed since trading Dustin Byfuglien in 2010.

The Hawks third line has provided the depth and size that Chicago needed this season. The production from the line has made the Blackhawks able to create match-up nightmares against other teams, and has helped make the Hawks one of the best teams in the league.