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Blackhawks’ Bryan Bickell needs a thump-start

Braden Holtby Bryan Bickell

Braden Holtby, Bryan Bickell

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Bryan Bickell has a heavy wrist shot that rivals the best the Blackhawks have to offer. He has better hands than he gets credit for and can keep up with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane when he has to. There’s a reason his coaches and teammates have him pegged as a potential 30-goal scorer, a reason he got a four-year, $16 million contract over the summer.

But Bickell is not a dangler. He’s not a guy who’s going to waltz through a defense and juke a goalie out of his shorts or make the no-look pass for the highlight-reel assist. He’s a net-crasher. A bruiser. A menace. The prototypical power forward, there to clear some room for his linemates and clean up around the goalmouth. At least, he needs to be.

And while some players get caught watching when playing alongside superstars, Bickell — with zero goals and one assist through five games — might have been caught dreaming.

“I think I get in the mind-set of, ‘If Toews and Kane can do it, why can’t I?’ ” Bickell said. “But I can’t think like that. I’ve got to think about what got me here, what worked, and repeat it in my head every game. The last couple of games, I’ve been getting away from it.”

Bickell was the breakout star of the playoffs last season with nine goals and eight assists. Coach Joel Quenneville’s decision to put Bickell on the top line with Toews and Kane ignited the Hawks’ offense against the Kings and Bruins. And after signing his big contract, Bickell was excited for the chance to shed his checking-line label once and for all and to see what he could do with a full season on a scoring line.

Well, four games into the season, Bickell found himself dropped back to the third line mid-game against the Islanders. Quenneville said he was just “trying things,” but Bickell heard the message loud and clear. After starting the game Saturday against the Sabres on the third line, Bickell boomed his way back to the top line with four hits in the first two periods; he had five total in the previous four games.

Bickell said he felt the line change was done to “wake me up.” But nobody explicitly told him to stop trying to do too much offensively or to throw his weight around more — not Quenneville, not Toews, not Kane.

“I’m not a little boy coming into this league,” Bickell said. “I know what they need me to do.”

Kane, for one, was happy to see the Bickell of old — the Bickell with whom he clicked so well during the playoffs — back in full force.

“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on him; I don’t know if that comes from the coaching staff or the media or whatever it is, but he’ll be fine,” Kane said. “He wants to do well. I think he does play better when he’s physical out there. I thought he had a fine game [against the Sabres], and when he plays simple and when he plays hard like that, he’s going to be a factor.”

Bickell insisted he’s not weighed down by the great expectations, nor by the hefty contract he signed. And he’s not sweating the slow start. The way he sees it, he knows what he can do, and he knows what he has to do. He just has to do it.

“You can talk about what happened last year, but this is this year,” he said. “I just need to constantly tell myself what works for those guys and what works for me. I’m sure over the course of the season, there are going to be ups and downs. Confidence goes a long way, and I’ve got to find it — hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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