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Daniel Carcillo more than just ‘Car Bomb’ with Blackhawks

BOSTON — The guy they call “Car Bomb” is still there, and he’s not hard to find.

There he is, leaping into the fray after Andrew Shaw dumped James Neal into the Blackhawks bench in Nashville. Retaliating on St. Louis’ Steve Ott for an open-ice hit on Shaw. Fighting late in a blowout in Los Angeles, then offering jeering fans the royal wave as he skates off the ice.

That’ll always be part of Daniel Carcillo’s game. But look again. There he is, delivering a slick backhand pass on the rush to set up a goal in Anaheim. Batting a puck out of mid-air for a goal in Los Angeles. Snapping a shot off the post and in for a goal in Calgary. Skilled. Patient. Smart with the puck.

That’s the new Carcillo. It’s also the old Carcillo — the one who scored 59 goals in a two-year span in juniors. The one who scored 21 goals one season in the AHL. The one the Hawks have allowed him to be.

“It says something to not have to come here and be just a fighter,” Carcillo said. “And [Joel Quenneville’s] been great. With some coaches, they expect you to always fight or be on edge. With Q, it’s just playing good, smart, defense-first hockey.”

Carcillo’s not trying to be the next Patrick Kane. But he’s been effective in limited minutes — three goals and two assists in 18 games while playing around eight or nine minutes a night — while playing solid defensively. Hard as it is to believe for a player with more than 1,200 career penalty minutes and numerous suspensions, he’s been disciplined, drawing nearly as many penalties as he’s taken. He’s fought just once.

“For a guy that maybe gets tagged in a tough role there, he’s got some hands, play recognition, a quick stick,” Quenneville said. “It’s a nice asset to have in today’s game. You need some type of a complement to the tough part.”

After failing to latch on in Pittsburgh on a training-camp tryout, and battling injuries the last few years, Carcillo’s career seemed like it might be on its last legs. But the Hawks quickly came calling, and with a baby on the way — Austin Wolf was born last month — Carcillo jumped at the chance to move back to a city in which he had put down roots, and where his girlfriend was from.

It’s all worked out better than he could have dreamed.

“I feel good, and there’s something to be said for playing every night,” he said. “I haven’t had that in the last three years; I’ve been in and out. And it’s hard to stay in game shape that way. I’m 29. But with everything happening in my life, it feels like it’s just beginning now.”

With that new start comes a chance to carve out a new reputation. When he was younger, he realized that his agitating style of play was his quickest path to the NHL. So after “annoying” everyone in juniors — “everyone always wanted to fight me, I just never did much of it,” he said — he learned how to fight during his two years in the AHL, racking up 494 penalty minutes in just 103 games.

But as the “enforcer” role slowly fades out of existence in the modern-day NHL, Carcillo — like many tough guys before him — is realizing the only way he can stay in the NHL is to round out his game.

“You kind of get pigeon-holed, but you can look in the mirror and see how it happened,” he said. “Most guys that do what I do now, they play regularly, but they also fight and they’ll stick up for their teammates. Fighting’s easy. You can always find a fight if you really want to. But here, with Q, it’s worrying about playing hockey first, and worrying about the other stuff second.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus