Bryan Bickell had as good an offseason as he did postseason.
Fresh off those playoffs in which he was an integral part in the Chicago Blackhawks winning their second Stanley Cup in four seasons, Bickell was rewarded with a big contract featuring big bucks. Of course, that also means big expectations. Now Bickell is ready to try and meet them.
Bickell will be on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, what coach Joel Quenneville said “could be as good a line as you’ll see in the league,” when the Blackhawks open against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. For Bickell, the offseason was a rather enjoyable, albeit short, one. He got married, got another Cup day and got peace in the fact that his name would be on the Cup this time around.
And, of course, he got that four-year, $16-million deal that definitely makes him a part of this core. But Bickell knows what comes with that: do what he did in the postseason, and add to it.
“I just have to bring myself to that mindset of what I did last year and how everything worked for me,” he said. “I was talking to (coach Joel Quenneville) — we had meetings today — and he said, ‘Don’t worry about anything else. Just play hockey.’ That’s my mindset going in. I know there’ll be some ups and downs. I just need to stay positive through them.”
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Andrew Shaw played with Bickell quite a bit the past two seasons. So how far does he think Bickell can go with his game?
“That’s up to him,” he said. “He’s got the talent and skills to compete. He’s going to battle, do whatever he can to help this team.”
Bickell has had his moments of doubt; that was evident two seasons ago, when he was in and out of the lineup. But Marian Hossa said Bickell’s always had the ability to play that game.
“He always had something in him. His thing was just to find that level of consistency. Toward the end of the season, he found it extremely well,” Hossa said. “He’s on the first line and did such a great job there (last season), so he deserved it. If he plays like that, it’s going to be hard to stop him.”
Stopping Bickell: that’s going to be on opponents’ minds more this season. With the top-line assignment comes top-line attention, and Bickell and company will be facing the opposition’s best defenders, the best checkers. It’s something to prepare for, but Quenneville doesn’t want Bickell to change his approach.
“Bicks has to play his game. Don’t be trying to make perfect passes all the time. Think shot, go to the net, score some greasy and ugly goals,” Quenneville said. “If he does that, I don’t want to put numbers on it, but I would expect him to get to a different level than we’ve seen.”
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Bickell is anticipating good things with Kane and Toews.
“It worked last year. Hopefully we can carry it on,” he said. “Our last exhibition game we were together for the first time and we had a lot of opportunities and good puck control. We didn’t want to do the simple plays. We wanted to do the tap-ins. But come tomorrow and the regular season, we’ll bear down and hopefully stick together.”
Bickell’s time has arrived. His opportunity is here. He’ll be hard pressed to earn better linemates than the ones with which he’ll start this season. The stellar postseason and offseason euphoria are in the past now. It’s time for Bickell to add to what he’s already done.
“Bicks is a guy with a big shot and a big presence in front of the net. He mixes well with Toews and Kane, having that sort of toughness and a guy who runs and opens space for those two,” Corey Crawford said. “He’s only going to get better.”