Chicago's final few roster spots are coming down to the wire. Who should make the cut?
In the post-lockout world teams have had to re-tool and adjust to this year’s lower cap. Not even the reigning Champions have been immune. Lucky for the Chicago Blackhawks they have a well-stocked farm system to pull from to replace those that have moved on. A couple of names have been at the forefront of that, Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin.
During most of the off-season it was a widely held belief that Pirri was the favorite to inherit the second line center job, or at least be right in the mix. Finding somebody to fill the role has been quite the vexation for Joel Quenneville and company. They’ve tried everything, including Patrick Kane, but to no avail. Then along comes Pirri who has posted impressive numbers at the AHL level. Over the last three seasons with Rockford, Pirri’s numbers have steadily improved each year, culminating in 22 goals and 75 points in 76 games. It seemed the stars were lining up perfectly for both player and team.
Then “Mad” Joel Quenneville decided it was time for another of his Frankenstein creations, namely Brandon Saad at second line center. That experiment was as much a failure as the rest of Quenneville’s well-intentioned previous attempts. In the meantime Pirri suffered an undisclosed lower-body-injury, which sidelined him for the final scrimmage of training camp and the first four pre-season games. That dealt the final blow to his chances of becoming the team’s new second line center. Veteran pivot Michal Handzus has that job now.
Jeremy Morin figured to be a good addition to the opening night roster, a versatile winger with grit and scoring touch. He looked to a safe bet for a job in the bottom-six where the ‘Hawks could utilize his best attributes. Over the last two seasons he has posted 40 and 58 points in 69 and 67 games respectively, while racking up 85+ PIM. He has had a good camp and yet finds himself fighting to make the final cut. Complicating matters for Morin has been the emergence of Joakim Nordstrom from out of thin air, and equally strong showings from fellow Rockford alums Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes.
On the surface it’s hard to see Nordstrom beating out Morin or the others. Nothing in Nordstrom’s past numbers really screams high-end producer. In 90 pro games with AIK of the Swedish Hockey League Nordstrom has only posted 15 points. In 11 games with Rockford last season he posted three points, and yet he has himself positioned as one of five forward prospects to make the final roster.
Quenneville has said he will open the season with eight defensemen on the roster, which leaves Pirri, Morin, Nordstrom, Hayes, and Smith all battling for three spots. As it stands now one or both of Pirri and Morin will be the odd man out barring a very strong performance in the final exhibition game, but even if it happens that one or both find themselves re-assigned to Rockford, it’s not all doom and gloom. Nordstrom still seems like a long shot to be more than a flavor-of-the-moment and I would expect he will need time in Rockford himself before the season is very far along. That alone will open one spot and then factor in that Patrick Sharp is no ironman and is likely to miss some games due to injury.
The same could be said for Marian Hossa as well of late. Even now it’s not written in stone that Hossa’s back will be ready to go for the season opener. And last but not least you have the current the second line center Handzus. While he is more durable than Hossa and Sharp, he is 36 and his best days are in the rear-view mirror.
All this adds up to an interesting couple of days as the final roster is solidified. Pay close attention this weekend as the situation could change in the span of 60 minutes on Saturday night. Pirri or Morin just may play their way off the bubble.
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