He's waited all season to feel like this, but now Bryan Bickell
is finally starting to play up to the expectations that were heaped on the hulking Chicago Blackhawks
forward coming into the season.
After scoring 17 goals and finishing with 37 points in 78 games last season -- his first full NHL campaign -- the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Bickell was thought to be a potential 20-goal scorer in the making. The way he played in a rout of the Vancouver Canucks
in the fourth game of what turned out to be a classic seven-game series made the expectations even greater.
Bickell severed a tendon in that game on a skate blade, however, and needed surgery to repair it. Until recently, he's floundered this season trying to find both his deadly wrist shot and the confidence to fire it more often.
Bickell scored just 4 goals and added 5 assists in the first 54 games this season and was a healthy scratch 11 times. But something clicked during Chicago's recent nine-game road trip, starting with a goal scored on Feb. 10 in San Jose.
Chicago lost the game, but Bickell started to play like he did a year ago -- adding another goal and two more helpers in the next five games, the last three resulting in Hawks wins.
"It's a new page and it's good," said Bickell, who's playing left wing on Chicago's third line with Dave Bolland
in the middle and Viktor Stalberg
on the right wing. "I think there's light at the end of the tunnel and our line with Bolly's been playing good, which is huge for our team and it's nice to see. We've got to keep things going the right way."
What's been the key to Bickell's game changing back toward the positive?
"I think playing [defense] is the biggest part," Bickell said after Tuesday's morning skate, prior to facing the Detroit Red Wings
on Tuesday night at the United Center (8 p.m., NBCSN, TBS2). "Then our offensive chances will come."
As for his own confidence level?
"It's where it was last year," Bickell said. "I know last year was a good year for me, and coming into this year there were a lot higher expectations of me. It was a slow start and it's been a slow, bumpy ride until now. I just need to keep this up and give this team everything I can do to win."
One of those things is simply shooting the puck more. Bickell had a deadly-accurate and hard wrist shot last season, which is one reason he scored 17 goals. Did the severed tendon affect it in any way?
"It's not where it was, but mentally it feels the same," Bickell said of his wrist shot. "I just need to shoot more. A lot of guys around this room think I have a good shot and I need to use it more."
The same can be said for his size, which he gets criticized for not using more as a checking-line winger.
"We're missing [Daniel Carcillo
] for the rest of the year, who is a big physical guy, so it makes me have to step up more and be more physical," Bickell said. "Now we've got [Jimmy Hayes
] here, too, so we can be more physical. I hope me and him can throw some guys around."