by Scott King
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville didn’t wait long before throwing the Hawks’ presumed top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik out on the ice. The trio lined up for the opening faceoff of training camp and virtually remained intact throughout the day for the red team.
“Yeah, I mean they’re a force out there,” said winger Patrick Kane, who scored two goals for the white team in the first scrimmage. “They’re going to be a special line. I thought all three of them seemed to have some chemistry right away.
“I think as the time goes on … they’re going to be a force throughout games and probably leading the charge for us. You look at that line, it’s an intimidating line to play against. They’re fast, they’re strong, they’re strong on the puck, they’re good with the puck possession, they can score goals. Obviously they’re going to be good defensively. Looks like that line’s going to be a good one for us.”
Saad, who won Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015 with the Hawks before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, was brought back to the Windy City in a June swap for forwards Artemi Panarin and Tyler Motte that also gave Chicago goaltender Anton Forsberg.
“It’s kind of like I never left,” Saad said. “It’s a different locker room now, but it’s good to be back. You see some familiar faces, you’re used to everything around the city and things like that. So I’m feeling pretty comfortable.”
After just one day of practice and scrimmages, the strong-on-the-puck power forward knows what he and his linemates have to do to achieve success.
“I think I just try to stick to my game, but with Johnny, it’s more of a down low game,” Saad said. “We have a big line, can protect the puck, I think when we have success, it’s more wearing teams down low and taking our chances, rather than playing off the rush.”
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews channeled his inner Captain Serious about the line’s defensive struggles during the scrimmages.
“We were racking up minuses today,” Toews said. “It was a tough first day, but I don’t know, we had a lot of chances and for me as a centerman, a lot of time you’re coming into the O-zone with the defensemen, you literally just have to throw it off either wall and both those guys can skate.
“It’s fun to be out there with two players of Panner (Richard Panik) and Saader’s (Brandon Saad’s) caliber. It was a good first day. We had a lot of chances so tomorrow we’ll start putting them in and be a little bit better defensively too.”
Although Saad and Toews’ reunion is one of the biggest reasons to have high hopes for the line, Saad and Richard Panik also play a similar game.
“He works hard,” Panik said of his new teammate. “He’s going to the battles and forechecking hard, he’s going to get those pucks from their D. It’s always fun to play with a guy like that. He’s just working hard and he gets the puck.”
Despite the line already seeming to have the right stuff, Panik sees room for improvement.
“It was first games, it’s always kind of sloppy,” Panik said. “But I think we had pretty good chances and pretty much all three guys we’re similar hockey [players], so it’s going to help us. We just have to communicate more. We’ll figure it out, we’re pretty good hockey players.”
Defenseman Brent Seabrook, who played for the black team against Saad, Toews and Panik in the second scrimmage, also sees the line as a likely threat against the rest of the league.
“Yeah, they were great,” Seabrook said. “Those guys, that line, they’ve all got speed, they’ve all got power, tough to play against in the corners, they can all make plays with each other and grind it down low if you need to. They come with a lot of speed.
“Saader reintroduced himself into that line. Today was getting used to it again, but they seemed like they sort of picked it up old hat and started following each other around and in their back pocket and doing some things. And Panik, he’s such a force out there, he’s a big, big body, tough to knock off the puck, he’s got a great shot, he’s pretty dangerous around the net. So I think if that’s a line that we go with, I think they could be dangerous.”
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