Morrison adds depth to Hawks' roster

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Morrison adds depth to Hawks' roster

It's a tale of two careers for the Blackhawks' newly-acquired Brendan Morrison. At one time he was an upper-echelon center in the NHL, but those glory days have passed.

During the prime of his career with the Vancouver Canucks, Morrison centered one of hockey's most lethal line combinations called the "West Coast Express" from 2002-2004. He played between Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi. During that three-year span, he scored 70 goals with 128 assists. However, in the last two seasons (94 games) he has just 13 goals and 41 assists.

But the scoring and top-notch playmaking ability has passed him by. At 36, Morrison adds depth at a critical position, and brings plenty of playoff experience.

A healthy Morrison assures that Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp can settle into their natural wing positions and not have to worry about playing center anymore. Morrison could immediately slide into the No. 2 role in between Sharp and Marian Hossa, and see a rise in his assists playing in between two elite snipers once again. That likely pushes Marcus Kruger to a fourth-line role in between some combination of Jamal Mayers, Michael Frolik, Andrew Brunette and Bryan Bickell while Dave Bolland resumes his regular spot on the third line, likely between Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes.

Morrison is also strong on faceoffs, winning them at a 50.3 percent clip -- now second on the team behind the league-leading Toews.

At best, Morrison flashes some of the play-making ability he once had and wins critical faceoffs. At worst, he is another Sami Pahlsson circa 2009. It's a low-risk, high-reward move as defenseman Brian Connelly -- while putting up nice numbers for Rockford -- was likely never going to crack the Hawks' defense corps.

Morrison won't put the Blackhawks over the top in the tough Central Division and isn't going to be the difference-maker in the run to a Stanley Cup. He'll help, sure, but he's just one more piece to a puzzle that's still incomplete -- likely the first of two or three moves between now and the Feb. 27 trade deadline.

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: What's the cause of recent struggles?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd discuss the latest slump and how much does Artem Anisimov's injury play a role in their struggles?

Konroyd tells us he was surprised by Ryan Hartman's benching in Tampa.

The guys play the game, playoff minutes or press box minutes?  They run through the players who are on the bubble when it comes to postseason play.

They also discuss the Hawks chances of overtaking Washington for the President's trophy.

Plus, Konroyd breaks down possible first round opponents: St Louis, Calgary and Nashville.

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

PITTSBURGH – Tanner Kero's been thrown into a lot of different situations in his time with the Blackhawks, be it third- or fourth-line center or penalty kill.

But with Artem Anisimov out, the second-line center spot has become new top-line, left-wing spot: The Blackhawks will keep trying guys out until they find one that works. Kero's the latest to get that opportunity, and since it worked well on Monday, he'll be there again on Wednesday.

Kero will center Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane again when the Blackhawks host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The line had a good start to Monday's game against the Lightning in Tampa, scoring the team's first two goals — Kero assisted on Panarin's opener.

Coach Joel Quenneville liked Kero's first go-around there.

"Defensively he's in a good spot — he's usually in a reliable spot in his own end — he made a couple of nice plays offensively and didn't change his game too much," Quenneville said. "It's not easy playing with guys at that next level. It's certainly a great challenge and a great opportunity, so I thought he did a great job, took advantage of it. We'll see how he does going forward but we'll keep him in there for [Wednesday's] game and that gives us some more options."

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Learning on the fly can be part of a rookie season, especially when injuries arise. Jonathan Toews said Kero's handled everything well this season.

"Come to think of it, it's one of those little things that maybe goes over my head but he's definitely one of those versatile players who's as consistent as ever," Toews said. "He has, for his age, an incredible level of maturity and he carries that with him wherever he goes. You're seeing offensive improvement, too. He was making some good plays with Bread Man and Kaner. He's showing he can do it all and I think his work ethic and attitude's a source of that success."

Earlier this season Kero was with guys like Ryan Hartman and Vinnie Hinostroza. They were all familiar with each other from their Rockford days, and that showed. Playing with two guys you don't know so well? It's a bit of a challenge, and one the three talk out. But ultimately, Kero said you have to rely on your instincts. 

"You go over things before the game and on the bench, get a feel for what you might want to do. But then you just have to play hockey," Kero said. "You have to trust your game, make plays. You know they're going to make plays with the puck so you try to use your speed and get open and try to go to the net, create space for them and a little traffic in front and try to capitalize on opportunities."

Anisimov will be out another 1-2 weeks. Asked if Anisimov has started skating back in Chicago yet, Quenneville said, "I don't think so but I'm not positive. But he's progressing." Filling Anisimov's skates isn't easy, as evidenced by the Blackhawks' search for his temporary replacement. Kero is the third guy to get that shot, and he took advantage of his first showing.

"Obviously it's a great opportunity to play with two great players," Kero said. "You just try to do everything you can and do the little things right."

Briefly

- Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith didn't practice on Tuesday but both are expected to play against the Penguins.

- Corey Crawford gets the start against Pittsburgh.

- Hartman, scratched after a rough game against the Florida Panthers, is probably back in against the Penguins.