Andrew Shaw opened the season as the Blackhawks’ second-line center. He’s currently the fourth-line right winger. And, frankly, that’s fine with him.
“I’ll take any opportunity that I get to play,” he said following Sunday’s morning skate, ahead of Game 2 against the Minnesota Wild.
It helps that Shaw knows two things: He’s more in his element as a winger, and the Hawks are a much better team when they have four strong lines. With Shaw on the right alongside Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger, the Hawks get both.
Joel Quenneville bristled at the idea that Shaw is more effective at wing than center, saying it’s “even” between the two. But freed up from the defensive responsibilities of playing down the middle, Shaw can do what he does best — muck along the boards, win puck battles in the corner, and forecheck with abandon.
“It does allow me to get on the forecheck more than I would at center,” Shaw said. “It allows me to play on the boards in my own end and in theirs, as well. And I feel that’s one of the biggest parts of my game.”
Shaw’s versatility is a big reason why Quenneville always has liked him so much. He had a brief, but wildly successful, cameo at second-line center during the Western Conference final last season, but has made his name as more of a checking-line grinder. The addition of Brad Richards last summer, Teuvo Teravainen during the season and Antoine Vermette at the trade deadline has given the Hawks a bounty of quality centers, bumping Shaw (and Teravainen) to the wing.
A position of weakness over the last few years has become a position of strength.
“We’ve got two centers playing the wing — it means we’ve got a lot of guys that can take draws, or play that middle role,” Shaw said. “I think down the middle, we’re pretty deep.”
All four lines scored in the Hawks’ 4-3 Game 1 victory, with Kruger backhanding a Shaw rebound past Devan Dubnyk in the first period. Shaw has three assists in the playoffs, so far, with Kruger and Desjardins each scoring once. The Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013 with a very good fourth line — Kruger, Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik — and faltered against the deep Kings last spring as Quenneville leaned heavily on the top three lines.
The latest incarnation of the fourth line is starting to resemble that 2013 edition.
“To go deep in the playoffs, you need all four lines, all six ‘D’ and you need everyone to contribute any way they can,” Kruger said. “Playing with Andrew and Andrew has been a lot of fun for me. Two great players that love to play aggressive and forecheck and hold onto the puck down low. That helps me out a lot, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”
Added Shaw: “We’ve got four lines that can play and four lines that can score. It’s a threat to any team you’re playing.”