Depth on defense forcing Joel Quenneville into tough decisions

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Brian Campbell has one assist and is a plus-2 in four games this season. (Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio —Brian Campbell sounded more perplexed than perturbed as he discussed the possibility that he’d be a healthy scratch just five games into the season.

“It’s not up to me,” the Blackhawks defenseman said. “There’s not much I can do about it.”

In five seasons with the Florida Panthers, Campbell didn’t miss a single regular-season game; in fact, he’s played in 390 straight regular-season games. Last season with the Blackhawks, Trevor van Riemsdyk played in all 82 games. But the Panthers didn’t have the kind of defensive depth the Hawks have now. In fact, neither did the Hawks.

And so, after one poor game, van Riemsdyk sat the next three. And Campbell, the Hawks’ biggest offseason acquisition, could be a healthy scratch Friday night in Columbus. Joel Quenneville didn’t say that outright after Thursday’s practice, but he did say van Riemsdyk was back in, and Campbell was working outside the top six for a second straight day.

That’s life with eight defensemen. Heck, Michal Rozsival hasn’t even gotten in a game yet.

“We have a good group here, and Trevor played 82 games, as well, last year,” Campbell said. “There’s lots of depth here, which is a great thing. It’s not my call. I don’t make the decisions, and that’s up to the coaching staff.”

Campbell spent the first four games on his off side —he’s a left-handed shot who played the left side in Florida —with a 20-year-old rookie, Gustav Forsling. Campbell has been a victim of his own versatility; Quenneville said he’d prefer to use him on the left side, but the Hawks’ glut of left-handed shots has forced him to the right.

Even as Campbell adjusts to seeing everything “backwards,” as he put it, the pairing hasn’t been playing terribly. but it hasn’t been driving possession in the early going. And it seems that it’ll be Campbell, not Forsling, who’s headed for the press box on Friday.

Even if Quenneville pulled a swerve and sat another defenseman for Campbell, it would raise eyebrows. Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook are stalwarts. Michal Kempny’s been a solid addition from the KHL. And Forsling has been the darling of the Hawks coaching staff and front office, and will be given every chance to succeed.

“Eight defensemen, we’ve got some decisions to make as we go along here,” Quenneville said. “Things change quickly in our business, particularly on the back end.”

Forsling’s emergence and van Riemsdyk’s quick benching led immediately to speculation about van Riemsdyk’s availability on the trade market. A Sportsnet report said the Hawks were floating the 25-year-old’s name around in an attempt to land a forward. Van Riemsdyk is doing his best to block out the noise and regain his job.

“You can’t worry yourself with stuff like that,” he said. “You’ve got to come to work every day and that type of stuff, you don’t control, so you can’t really pay it much attention. … Any time you’re out there playing, you just want to make the most of it, and do your best. But you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself. You just want to do the things that make you and the team successful.”

Quenneville said he simply wanted to get van Riemsdyk back in the lineup, and that he doesn’t “want to see the same guys sitting out for extended periods of time.” So it could be like this for a while. That could prove beneficial in the long run for some of the more weary Hawks. But Campbell, despite being 37 years old, doesn’t feel his minutes need to be limited in order to keep him fresh during the long grind of the NHL season. His durability always has been one of his greatest assets.

“I’ve played every game the last little while here,” Campbell said. “I’m not used to it obviously, if that’s the case (being scratched). Personally, I don’t think I’m overtaxed or anything like that. Sometimes you look at your big guys, especially forwards that can play 22, 23 minutes a night, it’s definitely taxing throughout a season. But I don’t put myself in that category.”

NOTES: Marian Hossa, who was hurt blocking a shot after scoring his 500th goal on Tuesday night, will not play in Columbus. Quenneville said “it’s possible” that Hossa plays Saturday against Toronto. Corey Crawford will start in Columbus, which means Scott Darling likely will play Saturday.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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