The Blackhawks had arguably the best line in hockey last season, as Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane tore up the NHL.
Panarin helped Kane to his best season, a scoring title, and a Hart Trophy. Kane helped Panarin to a 30-goal rookie season, a massive bonus, and the Calder Trophy. With Anisimov doing the dirty work down the middle and in front of the net, Panarin and Kane developed an uncanny sixth sense for each other on the ice, their instant chemistry overcoming the early language barrier. After years of playing with a rotating cast of characters, Kane finally found the line that unleashed his full potential.
Problem was, it was the only line the Hawks had. And Joel Quenneville, in a desperate quest for some scoring balance, is strongly considering breaking up his superb second line.
“It’s definitely a thought process,” Quenneville said Saturday. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s have a look at it in camp.’ And maybe we can have a different look, or something to think about, at least, going into the season with [Jonathan Toews] and Kaner being on different lines, and having more balance on both lines.”
Well, Panarin and Kane definitely gave Quenneville something to think about Saturday night, when the dynamic duo hooked up for the Hawks’ first goal in more than 152 minutes of preseason play. Kane and Panarin were reunited for a post-penalty-kill shift (Quenneville often loads up with his biggest guns on the first shift after a kill), and Panarin one-timed a Kane feed past former Hawks farmhand Carter Hutton to propel the Hawks to a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues, who left most of their NHL players back home.
“Everybody’s good, so we are ready to get some new partners,” Panarin said through an interpreter. “But, essentially, we score together because we know each other and we work together.”
Quenneville started the night with Panarin on a line with Vinnie Hinostroza and Richard Panik, and Kane with Anisimov and Nick Schmaltz. Quenneville tried all sorts of combinations throughout the game, though, largely keeping Kane and Panarin apart. The hope is that another skilled winger — perhaps Schmaltz or Tyler Motte, who scored two goals Saturday and who has been the most impressive of the young players in camp — can step into Panarin’s old spot on the Kane line.
Kane shrugged it all off, saying that last year was the exception, not the rule, and that he’s used to playing with several different linemates throughout the season. But he couldn’t deny the obvious chemistry he has with Panarin, either.
“It’s funny, I had a play like that earlier in the game and I was looking and both of the guys drove the net — I’m not sure who I was on the ice with,” Kane said. “Usually Panarin would kind of stop and find that little open spot. And, sure enough, the next time I do that he’s on the ice and does that exact same play.”
With only eight real locks up front — Toews, Kane, Panarin, Anisimov, Panik, Marian Hossa, Marcus Kruger, and Andrew Desjardins — Quenneville’s never entered a camp with such uncertainty. Never mind the fact that he’s just joining the team 11 days before the season starts.
“Probably not to this level, as far as who’s going to be the guy and who’s going to play left wing with Jonny, or who’s going to play left wing with Kaner,” Quenneville said. “Definitely, those opportunities haven’t been there [in the past]. We’ll see how it sorts itself out. But it’s definitely new for us. For these young kids, we talked about it in the summer — it’s never been better for you guys to push for it and try to take advantage of it. I find if you get to play with a Tazer or a Kaner, they’re going to make you better immediately. It’s a heck of an opportunity to get a challenge and play with either one of those guys.”