One of the complaints I hear from die-hard fans is that they're sick of hearing about top prospects; they'd actually like to see them. Well, at least in one area of play, the future has finally arrived.
Whether it was by plan or necessity really doesn't matter, but with the injuries to Jassen Cullimore and Adrian Aucoin, we are seeing the defense of the future become the defense of the present. And I like what I see.
Here are the players that manned the blue line in a recent game against Minnesota (with ages): Cam Barker (20), Brent Seabrook (21), Dustin Byfuglien (21), James Wisniewski (22), Duncan Keith (23), Jim Vandermeer (26). Add Lasse Kukkonen at 25 to the mix and this is really a group that possibly began shaving last week.
Telling in that game against Minnesota was the overtime, where two recent Norfolk call-ups, Barker and Byfuglien, ran the power play. They didn't score, but it was a peek at what we may see in the years to come. Barker is a true PP pilot, while Byfuglien has a very heavy shot and can skate. In fact, when describing these young defensemen, no two are alike; and that's a good thing.
Seabrook is the passer ... Keith is the skater ... Wiz is the physical one ... Barker is the power play guy ... and Buf is a little bit of everything, including the shooter. When a fight is needed, we've seen Jim Vandermeer take on some heavyweights. And Lasse Kukkonen is a good stay-at-home type who plays well fundamentally.
Now that is a great combination of talents. Of course, they all have their weaknesses. But experience is the only thing standing in the way of most of these guys and success.
Having said all that, there's a very good chance several of these players won't be playing for the Hawks, maybe as soon as next year. Most of these young guys have to be considered in trade possibilities. You have to give something to get something, and there's almost nothing more coveted than young, quality defenseman. Dale Tallon will have to make the tough but crucial decision on who stays and who goes.
If it happens, it would be one of those decisions that will affect the franchise for years to come. I'd have to say Cam Barker, right now, is nearly untouchable. This is due to the current state of the Hawks power play: it's on life suport. He's a guy who could immediately help out in that area, and with no other obvious signs of hope, he needs to be given a full chance to do that. Otherwise, a package including another defenseman certainly wouldn't shock anyone.
If Dale elects to keep his assets (so far he has), then it will be interesting to see who emerges as the go-to guys. Obviously, Keith and Seabrook have a leg up having been here longer. But don't count out Wisniewski or Byfuglien as being heavy contributors (Wiz already is).
I really like Byfuglien. How many guys can skate, hit, shoot, and stickhandle from the blue line? Plus, he's got monster like size. There is no doubt his game needs work (see Wild game: bad turnover), but I like his moxie and aggressive play. I think he'd be a perfect fit for Denis Savard's system.
So at the end of the day, whether they all stay or go, the Hawks have assets that should help them win games either on the ice or via trade; it's the coaching and management's job to max out the potential of these guys and to figure out who wants to be a difference maker and who's just happy to be in the NHL. The competition should bring out the best in this young group.
The best is what the Hawks need.
Email pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org