Bolland given opportunity on Hawks' second-line

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Bolland given opportunity on Hawks' second-line

Weve all gotten used to seeing Chicago Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland in a certain role: center of the third line, leader of the checkers, aggravator of the Sedins.

But on Sunday, the Blackhawks first day of training camp, Bolland was taking a different role: second-line center, between two scoring snipers. And while line changes are always possible with the Blackhawks, for now its Bollands opportunity to move up one.

Bolland skated between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the Blackhawks No. 2 line, as team staff is ready to see him spread his scoring wings. Bolland has proven himself as the checking-line center; hes good at it, and good at getting in opposing top line players heads. But theres always been that other side of Bolland, the guy who can get on some scoring streaks, and the Blackhawks are hoping to see that more with this move.

Everybody kind of puts him as a third-line center, in that checking role, and a lot of times that line can be our best line. So having some offensive guys surrounding (Bolland), we think thered be nice production with the three of them plus theres some defensive responsibility, coach Joel Quenneville said. I like the balance that line shows.

General manager Stan Bowman agreed.

Weve talked about giving him an expanded role on our team for some time, and the time is now, Bowman said. On some of our playoff runs, he has ability to do things offensively. In that role, its probably more important that a player has the awareness to play in his own end. We have some high-end offensive players on wings. He doesnt have to surpass them; just play the defensive role on that line and be able to read off them, which Dave can do.

Bolland, who has played that role briefly a few times, is ready for the opportunity.

Playing with Kaner and Sharpie is always a privilege. Its a big role to embrace and I think Im ready for it, said Bolland. For sure, the offense is there. But Ive always been taught that defense is the game and you have to take care of that. Itll be a different mindset, going against different lines out there. But itll be good.

Bolland tallied 19 goals last season, tying a career high set in 2008-09. For Kane, the potential for Bolland to help linemates, and score more himself, is there.

Ive had some success playing with Bolland, and I know other players have in the past, Kane said. Hes a great center. He does a lot of things you want a center to do, moving the puck up ice and doing other things wingers arent supposed to. (His offense) is overlooked. He has all the talent in the world. Hes got a great shot, great hands. And hopefully he can show that.

Sharp said Bollands defensive skills are an added bonus for the line.

Bolleys a great player and weve had success in the past, he said. Theres a lot of talk with him playing with Kaner and myself, but hes still going to play his game. Hes still going to be tough to play against.

Bollands defense will remain. The Blackhawks dont want him to lose that. They just see his scoring potential, and they want to see it more.

Bolland, offensively, has skill. You can argue on any team of the league he could be the second-line center. But we dont expect him to be just in that (checking) role. I think theres more there.

Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Patrick Kane felt a little sheepish for being a little too emotional during a fist-pumping celebration after extending Chicago's lead to four goals in the third period.

It certainly wasn't a clutch goal or anything like that. The Blackhawks coasted to a 5-1 win over the Sabres on Sunday night.

Then again, Kane only gets to play in his Buffalo hometown once a year.

"I was a little jacked up for a 5-1 goal," Kane said. "I don't even know what I was thinking after that. It was kind of a blackout in that moment."

At least it had some historical significance.

It was Kane's 20th goal of the season, making the South Buffalo native the league's first American-born player to score that many in each of his first 10 seasons , according to Elias Sports. Kane also became the fifth Blackhawks player to reach the 20-goal plateau 10 times on a franchise career list led by Stan Mikita's 14.

"I think it's a pretty cool number," Kane said, before joking he's starting to feel old for 28.

"It's almost sad how fast it goes by," he added. "I feel maybe not as young as I used to be. ... Hopefully, a lot of great years left."

Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews broke it open with second-period goals for Chicago, which won for the sixth time in seven games. Ryan Hartman and Artem Anisimov also scored, helping the Blackhawks bounce back from a 3-1 loss to Edmonton on Saturday.

Scott Darling, subbing for starter Corey Crawford, made 25 saves in just his seventh appearance in two months.

Evander Kane scored and Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots for Buffalo in its final game before its five-day bye. The Sabres were trying for their first four-game win streak since December 2014.

Patrick Kane, however, was part of the draw given the large number of No. 88 Blackhawks jerseys that dominated several parts of the stands. And he gave them plenty to cheer about in the third period.

First, his one-timer from the high slot set up Anisimov's goal, making it 4-1 at the 3:29 mark.

Some three minutes later, Kane showed off some of his remarkable stick-handling skills. The NHL MVP was set up on the right of the Buffalo net, and was untouched for several seconds before easily depositing the puck inside the right post .

Kane celebrated by skating around the net, dropping down to one knee and pumping his arm, before flashing a big smile at a large number of Blackhawks fans in the stands.

Darling ate it up from the far end of the rink, knowing how special the moment was to Kane.

"It's an emotional game," Darling said. "I was super happy for him to have a highlight-reel goal like that."

Kane has scored in eight straight games against the Sabres. He upped his career total to eight goals and four assists in 13 meetings.

Chicago won its 11th consecutive game over Buffalo. The Blackhawks haven't lost to the Sabres since a 2-1 defeat at Buffalo on Dec. 11, 2009.

The Sabres were unable to match the Blackhawks' speed or depth after Evander Kane tied the game by converting Jack Eichel's centering pass with 6 seconds left in the first period.

Buffalo was outshot 20-14 over the final 40 minutes and 37-26 overall.

"We did too much sitting back, playing in our own zone," Eichel said. "We didn't play aggressive enough. We gave them too much room and the puck ended in our net."

Fatigue could have played a factor for the Sabres, who went 4-2 over a stretch of six games in nine days, including a 3-2 win over St. Louis on Saturday night.

"We can take some time here to rest a bit and try and let ourselves refocus for the last push of the season," Eichel said.

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat is putting up video-game numbers in the Ontario Hockey League.

He ranks first among all players with 49 goals and 104 points, and has done so in only 50 games. That's an average of more than two points per game.

DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' second-round draft pick (No. 39 overall) in 2015 thanks to the Andrew Shaw trade, became the Erie Otters' all-time leading goal scorer earlier this year and on Saturday, he tied Brad Boyes for second on the team's all-time points list with 309. The only player he's chasing now is teammate Dylan Strome, who has 329 and counting.

Connor McDavid, who ranks fourth in Otters history with 285 points, was there for DeBrincat's rookie season when he scored 51 goals and 50 assists. The 20-year-old Oilers captain very much still pays attention to the Otters, and isn't surprised by the heightened success of his former teammate.

"He’s having another amazing season," McDavid said. "No surprise there."

It was easy to suggest DeBrincat's numbers were inflated because he benefited from having a player like McDavid centering his line. But McDavid insists that wasn't the case.

"Honestly, we helped each other," McDavid said. "It was not a one-way street by any means. He finds a way to score goals. My year they were saying, 'Oh, he was just playing with me.' Then the other year, he’s playing with (Strome). He’s playing with Stromer again. To score 50 three seasons in a row is absolutely incredible no matter who you’re playing with or what you’re doing. Absolute credit to him."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The numbers back it up, too.

DeBrincat's points per game average has increased in each of the last three seasons: 1.53, 1.68 and 2.08, a significant jump from his second to third season. It's especially impressive when you factor in that he's scored only eight of his 49 goals on the power play this year after combining for 34 goals on the man advantage in his first two. 

Initially, McDavid was a little skeptical when informed that newly-signed winger DeBrincat, who's now listed as 5-7, 170 pounds, would be his new linemate. It didn't take long for that to change.

"He kind of just came out of nowhere," McDavid said. "I remember us signing (him) and looking, and it said he was 5-2, 140 pounds, whatever. The GM at the time, Sherry Bassin, said 'I found you a new winger.' I’m like, ‘That guy is going to play with me?’ Sure enough, he comes in and we kind of have that chemistry right away.

"He knows where the net is. He finds a way to score basically every night. He’s got a great shot. He’s one of the feistiest guys I’ve ever played with. It’s really remarkable about what he’s been able to do."

Size is surely to be the biggest concern for DeBrincat at the NHL level, but players such as Cam Atkinson (5-7), Johnny Gaudreau (5-8) and Mats Zuccarello (5-7) are proving that you can be among the league's best despite being undersized. And the game is evolving into more of an up-tempo style where teams built on speed is becoming the new norm.

DeBrincat's willingness to stick his nose into dirty areas combined with his offensively-gifted ability is a big reason why McDavid believes his former linemate will succeed at the highest level.

"I think well," McDavid said when asked how DeBrincat's game will translate into the NHL. "He’s just got such a drive and such a nose for the net that I don’t think he’s going to be stopped. He takes on guys much bigger. I don’t really know how he does it.

"Especially when he was a rookie and I was playing with him, he’s going into scrums against guys that are 6-5, and you’re on the ice thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to help you?’ He definitely picks his fights. He’s a special person and special player."