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Andrew Shaw ready for next challenge as second-line center

Colorado Avalanche v Chicago Blackhawks

Colorado Avalanche v Chicago Blackhawks

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Updated: February 18, 2014 6:33AM

Andrew Shaw’s story, told and
retold countless times during his rise from afterthought to NHL stalwart, is all about persistence and peskiness in the face of doubters and opponents alike. Twice passed over in the NHL draft, too small to make an impact, too tough a lineup to crack — none of it stopped Shaw from becoming a 22-year-old with a $4 million contract and his name on the Stanley Cup.

So who’s going to tell him he can’t become a top-six forward on the most offensively gifted team in the league, a guy who could be the answer winger Patrick Kane and coach Joel Quenne-
ville have been looking for at second-line center?

Actually, for the Hawks’ sake, maybe somebody should tell him that.

‘‘I’ve always hated being told what to do,’’ Shaw said. ‘‘So I kind of just try to make my way by proving people wrong.’’

Two games into Quenneville’s latest second-line experiment, Shaw is looking quite comfortable between Kane and Brandon Saad. After posting one goal and no assists in his previous 13 games as the third line foundered, Shaw has a goal in each game, plus an assist.

Shaw is known more for his scrappy play and antagonistic style. But with 13 goals, 11 assists and a permanent home on the Hawks’ top power-play unit, he’s proving to be offensive in more ways than one.

‘‘I think a lot of guys get stereotyped,’’ Saad said ‘‘Regardless of thinking he’s . . . a grinder, whatever you want to call him, he definitely has some skill.’’

That said, with Kane on his right wing and Saad on his left, it’s not Shaw’s job to score goals. His job is to do the dirty work in the corners to fetch them the puck, to crash the net and clean up their rebounds and to focus on defense so they don’t have to. His job isn’t to score points; it’s to help Kane and Saad to score points. Whatever he gets is a bonus.

‘‘It kind of jells well,’’ Saad said. ‘‘Even though he’s not the typical playmaking center, he still can make plays. And playing with playmakers like Kane, it helps both of us with him working hard and going to the net.’’

Shaw’s rise to the second line is reminiscent of Dave Bolland’s last season, a checking-line guy thrust into an unlikely offensive role. It didn’t work out with Bolland, who proved far more effective in a bottom-six spot, particularly in the playoffs. And while the Hawks might wind up missing Shaw’s presence further down the lineup come the postseason, Quenne-
ville had nothing but good things to say about his first two games in his new role and suggested it might
become a permanent home for him.

Of course, aside from Jonathan Toews lining up at center on the top line every night, nothing is guaranteed in Quenneville’s lineup. Just last week, he touted Marcus Kruger as a possible answer at second-line center, only to bump him back down to the fourth line by the end of his first game there. So while Shaw called it a ‘‘privilege’’ and said he very much wants this to become a ‘‘long-term thing,’’ he knows better than to get comfortable in a role.

‘‘Real short leash,’’ he said. ‘‘I can’t take the foot off the gas. I’ve got to keep going and keep pushing myself and keep improving game in and game out.’’

It’s a big chance for an unlikely star. But while Shaw admits to surprising even himself sometimes with how far he has come, his never-ending quest to prove himself has made him greedy — in the best possible way.

‘‘I’ve always impressed myself; I’ve always exceeded my goals,’’ he said. ‘‘I just keep moving forward and keep wanting more and more.’’


Twitter: @marklazerus

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