Artem Anisimov isn’t worried about whether he’ll get his old spot next to Patrick Kane back, or if he’ll be slotted somewhere in the bottom six. After missing nine games and counting, he just wants to play again.
“I just want to get healthy and get ready to play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what line. I just need to go out there and play.”
Anisimov participated Friday in his first full practice since he suffered an upper-body injury on Dec. 28 in Vancouver, but he won’t play Saturday against the New York Islanders. Joel Quenneville hopes he’ll be in the lineup Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For Anisimov, it’s no longer about the injury, it’s about conditioning. With all the time off and then the bye week, Friday’s practice was a slog.
“It was pretty tough,” he said. “I’m getting there.”
Quenneville said he was still weighing his options for Anisimov. Nick Schmaltz has played very well as Patrick Kane’s center, but Anisimov has struggled whenever he’s been apart from Kane. Anisimov has 13 goals and five assists in 36 games this season.
“We had him on two or three different lines this morning, thinking he had a chance [to play Saturday],” Quenneville said. “Lot of options right now.”
Erik Gustafsson could make his season debut Saturday against the Islanders. The recent Rockford call-up was skating on a pairing with Brent Seabrook, while Connor Murphy was on a pairing with Michal Kempny, both of whom could be healthy scratches.
“He’s been around, he’s eager to go,” Quenneville said. “I look forward to seeing what he can do.”
Gustafsson hasn’t played in the NHL since the 2015-16 season, when he had 14 assists in 41 games with the Hawks.
In other lineup news, Anthony Duclair was skating on the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews, while Vinnie Hinostroza was on the third line with Alex DeBrincat and David Kampf. Anton Forsberg will start in goal.
While the Hawks’ hole only deepened during the bye week, Quenneville found a bit of optimism — sort of — in the ever-changing nature of the playoff picture, particularly the Colorado Avalanche’s eight-game win streak and the Los Angeles Kings’ five-game losing streak. The Avs were the worst team in hockey last season.
“You look at where they were last year and where they were at the beginning of the year, then you run off eight straight games,” Quenneville said. “And you [see] where L.A. was atop the conference recently and now they’re not in a playoff spot. It changes quickly. The value of those two points [every night] is tremendously huge. Right now we dug a huge hole. It’s up to us to get ourselves in contention again and that’s our challenge.”
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