ST. LOUIS — Andrew Desjardins only missed four weeks of the regular season with the foot injury he suffered blocking a shot in the preseason finale in St. Louis. But for a guy who never had dealt with a significant injury in his career, it felt like forever.
“It feels like the first few weeks kind of fly by because you’re rehabbing and you’re hurting a little bit,” Desjardins said. “But it’s [that] last week and a half where it’s just like, hey, let’s go. You just get excited and you don’t realize that you’re still rehabbing. You feel good, but there’s still work to be had. It was just a case of that where you kind of get antsy and want to get after that.”
It didn’t help that Desjardins was a healthy scratch on Sunday, with Joel Quenneville reluctant to change a lineup that had won five straight. The Hawks won on Sunday, too, to stretch that streak to six games. But Tyler Motte’s lower-body injury (he’ll be out two or three weeks) opened the door for Desjardins’ season debut Wednesday night in the same building in which he was hurt on Oct. 8.
Desjardins slots in on the fourth line with Dennis Rasmussen and Jordin Tootoo, but could see significant time on the penalty kill. No Hawks forward had more shorthanded minutes than Desjardins did last season.
“It’s a coach’s decision, up to their discretion,” Desjardins said. “But I want to be. So hopefully that opportunity arises.”
Barely two weeks ago, Richard Panik led the NHL in goals with six. But in the seven games since he has no goals and two assists, and was dropped from the Hawks’ top line to the third line in the middle of Sunday’s win over Dallas. So instead of playing with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, he’s playing with Marcus Kruger and Ryan Hartman.
Rookie Nick Schmaltz gets a turn with the top line in his place.
“It’s part of the game,” Panik said, saying he wasn’t disappointed. “Hopefully our line will be good.”
The knock on Panik, particularly when he was in Toronto, was his inconsistent play — great for stretches, invisible for others. When asked what Panik did to lose his spot on the top line, Quenneville demurred.
“He didn’t really,” Quenneville said. “Over the last little while, he’s been OK. It’s more of, ‘Let’s see how [Schmaltz] works. We can go back to that line in one second and [Panik] can be right up there.”
Tearing it up
Alex DeBrincat, the Hawks’ second-round pick in the June draft, has been lighting up the OHL so far this season, with 18 goals and 20 assists in just 15 games. He had 51 goals in each of his past two seasons with the Erie Otters. The OHL is a famously offensive league, as Patrick Kane — who had 62 goals and 83 assists in just 58 games in his one season with the London Knights — knows well.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Kane said of DeBrincat’s numbers. “It’s a fun league. … It can give you a lot of confidence. It’s a fun way to play hockey, and it‘s a fun way to get better, and work on your skills. I was always a big believer, even when I was younger, [that you should] play at a level where you can really dominate and work on your skills, work on things that maybe you wouldn’t try at a higher level. It’s good for him. That’s amazing to hear those numbers.”
The Hawks signed DeBrincat to a three-year entry-level deal this week. And while his NHL debut is still off in the distance, he’s certainly a big part of the Hawks’ future plans. Well, not too big. He’s listed at 5-foot-7. But the NHL, as Kane has proven, is becoming a speedy, small-man’s league.
“Some guys find a way, and I think you’re seeing a lot more smaller guys play, particularly offensive guys,” Quenneville said. “He’s gotten off to another one of these amazing starts. His record in juniors is spectacular. It’ll be fun to see him progress. Obviously he’s still got to work on pace. But you can’t teach goal-scoring, so he’s got a great asset to have in his arsenal.”