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Dave Bolland showing value to Blackhawks in more than one way

GM Stan Bowman is confident Dave Bollwill be up challenge centering second line. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

GM Stan Bowman is confident Dave Bolland will be up to the challenge of centering the second line. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 14, 2013 8:49AM

Dave Bolland figured it out pretty quickly once he got to the NHL. If he wanted to stick around, he had to put away those dreams of being a top-line forward, a highlight-reel guy, a scoring machine.

“Once I got up and was playing with the big team, I knew to stay up here, it was either play defense or be back in the minors,” Bolland said. “And it was never fun down there.”

So Bolland focused on his defense and on playing responsible hockey, becoming a valuable member of the Blackhawks as the checking-line center for most of his five seasons. But deep down lurked a scorer waiting to break out. He tallied 57 goals and 130 points in 59 games in his last junior season in the Ontario Hockey League in 2005-06. He scored 19 goals in 2008-09 and again last season despite playing mostly on the checking line. He had eight goals and eight assists during the Hawks’ run to the Stanley Cup in 2010.

“We always somehow [peg] him as that type of player, but we expect him to not just be in that role,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think there’s more there.”

Well, Bolland’s going to get his chance to prove it.

The Hawks opened their abbreviated training camp Sunday — the first of five workouts before they leave for Los Angeles for the season opener Saturday against the defending-champion Kings — and Bolland found himself skating between Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. A viable second-line center has been the Blackhawks’ white whale for a few seasons, and Bolland hopes he can be the missing piece.

“I embrace my role, and whatever is thrown at me, I take it,” he said. “If this is what it is right now, I’ll take it. It’s a big role and I’m ready to embrace it.”

Bolland should get an extended audition. With such a short training camp and no preseason games, there’s not much time for tinkering, even for the famed tinkerer Quenneville. And general manager Stan Bowman said Sunday that a trade or big signing is “possible but unlikely.” Like Quenneville, he wants to see what Bolland can do.

“We’ve slotted Dave in at that third-line role for a long time,” Bowman said. “[But] each player in our team always has room for growth in their game. In order to demonstrate that, you have to give them the opportunity. Now is the time. We certainly know he can play in that role he’s been playing in. But his pedigree prior to coming to the Blackhawks — he was an offensive player. There are a lot of players that score in junior that don’t translate over. But he’s got a lot of skill.”

Kane and Sharp welcomed the idea of flanking Bolland. But nobody is expecting him to become a 50-goal scorer. In fact, they don’t want him to change much at all.

“He’s still going to play his game,” Sharp said. “He’s still going to be tough to play against and win faceoffs, play well defensively, and we’ll see how it goes.”

That balance is exactly what Quenneville is seeking.

“Offensively, we think that’ll be some nice production between the three of them,” Quenneville said. “And at the same time, there’s some responsibility defensively. I like the balance that line shows. Bolly, offensively, has some skill. You can argue that every team in the league, Bolly could be their second-line center.”

The Hawks just hope he can be theirs, so they ­finally can stop looking for one.

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