Blackhawks notebook: Derek King’s all-wingers line interesting but short-lived

The trio of Brandon Hagel, Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat “didn’t really work” in King’s eyes, but it could foreshadow more outside-the-box lines to come.

SHARE Blackhawks notebook: Derek King’s all-wingers line interesting but short-lived
Typical winger Brandon Hagel took three shifts Thursday centering Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat.

Typical winger Brandon Hagel took three shifts Thursday centering Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

Interim coach Derek King, desperate for a spark during the third period of the Blackhawks’ 7-4 loss Thursday against the Blue Jackets, came up with a bizarre but intriguing line.

He put Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Brandon Hagel — clearly the Hawks’ best forwards this season — together. There was just one complication: They’re all wingers.

“[I was] just trying to find something,” King said. “I didn’t like certain guys, and Hagel played a little center with me [in the AHL]. I just thought, ‘He’s going to bring some energy, hunt down some pucks and maybe get something going.’ ”

They played 2:45 in three shifts together, outshooting the Jackets 2-1. But the lack of a center backfired on the third shift, when Boone Jenner won a faceoff against Hagel to set up Patrik Laine’s goal three seconds later.

“It didn’t really work,” King admitted. “Then I put [Dylan] Strome back [as center], and they got a goal. I’m just trying to find something for these guys to bring something. I have to do a better job managing the lines.”

It was still an interesting idea, though, and King’s willingness to try it might foreshadow more outside-the-box line combinations during the stretch run. 

The Hawks have regularly tried starting overtimes with just DeBrincat, Kane and Seth Jones, essentially forfeiting the opening faceoff in favor of counterattacking explosiveness. Meanwhile, it might make sense to try a two-center line with Kirby Dach and Sam Lafferty or (when he returns) Tyler Johnson, who can help Dach on faceoffs.

And maybe even the DeBrincat-Hagel-Kane trio will return someday. Kane, for his part, seemed to like it.

“I think it could be good, especially if they throw us out on the fly,” Kane said after the game Thursday. “Those guys push the pace so hard and create turnovers and little battles where you can get the puck back. Tonight, when we actually got the puck back in the offensive zone, we had some time and space to make plays and created quite a bit.”

Toews skates

Jonathan Toews was a full participant in the morning skate Friday, his first time out with the team on the ice since suffering a concussion Jan. 26. Riley Stillman also made his first practice appearance since injuring his left shoulder Jan. 22, participating in a non-contact jersey.

Although Toews was retroactively put on injured reserve Friday — to open up the roster spot for Lukas Reichel — it seems like he’s on track to return sooner rather than later.

Additionally, Jujhar Khaira and his $975,000 salary-cap hit were moved to long-term injured reserve.

IceHogs rolling

Reichel’s recent dominance, which earned him his NHL call-up, is only one piece of a winter full of good news in Rockford.

In fact, the IceHogs’ improvement over the course of the season — with one of the youngest, most prospect-heavy rosters in the AHL — might be one of the most encouraging storylines in the entire Hawks organization.

Rockford’s four-game winning streak has lifted its record to 21-16-4, good enough for the third of four playoff spots in the AHL’s Central Division. They’re 18-10-3 since Nov. 17.

Ian Mitchell has emerged as an all-around No. 1 defenseman at the AHL level. He has picked up seven points in his last six games. Fellow defenseman prospect Isaak Phillips is surging, too, with points in four of his last five games. And at forward, once-forgotten prospect Michal Teply has overcome an awful start to get 11 points (including seven goals) in his last 14 games.

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