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Role on third line shouldn’t pigeonhole Hawks’ Brandon Pirri

2013-2014 Chicago Blackhawks Headshots

2013-2014 Chicago Blackhawks Headshots

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Updated: January 4, 2014 6:26AM



Brandon Pirri has seen his minutes drop considerably since the Blackhawks bumped him down to the third line to make room for Michal Handzus in Edmonton on Nov. 25. Pirri played 13 minutes in that game, 11 in Calgary, 10 in Dallas and just seven in Phoenix.

Pirri, a gifted offensive talent who’s still trying to develop an NHL-caliber two-way game, might seem like a poor fit for the third line. But Hawks coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t see that unit — with Pirri centering Kris Versteeg and Andrew Shaw — as a checking line. With the surging fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith earning more minutes against opponents’ top guys, Quenneville feels he essentially has three scoring lines.

‘‘I don’t know if it’s a checking line; I don’t know if that’s how that line would be described,’’ Quenneville said after practice Monday at Johnny’s IceHouse West. ‘‘It’s not like that is a defined role, him being a checker in that role. No matter what line he’s on, we know what he’s capable of. We want him to progress defensively — offensively, we know he’s going to be fine.’’

Shaw thinks Pirri will be fine in the new role, which could last until Bryan Bickell’s eventual return from a leg injury.

‘‘He’s adapted pretty well,’’ Shaw said. ‘‘He plays good defensively. We work together out there as good as we can.’’

A star for Keith

Duncan Keith, who had six assists in four games this past week, was named the NHL’s third star of the week, behind the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and the Detroit Red Wings’ Niklas Kronwall. Keith leads all NHL defensemen with 23 assists and has at least a point in 17 of his last 20 games.

He and defensive partner Brent Seabrook were both an NHL-best plus-15 in November.

Quenneville said Keith is playing even better than he did in the 2009-10 season, when he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top blue-liner.

‘‘He’s at a different level right now,’’ Quenneville said.

Roster report

Bickell was seen walking around Johnny’s without a noticeable limp, but Quenneville said he’s ‘‘still a little bit away from jumping on the ice.’’

Corey Crawford will start in goal Tuesday against the Dallas Stars.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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