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Move to Blackhawks a new challenge for Richards

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- Brad Richards is just getting to know the Chicago Blackhawks, so forgive him if his approach is still a little formal.

After signing a one-year contract with the Blackhawks on July 1 worth a reported $2 million, the veteran center is meeting most of his new teammates this weekend at the Seventh Annual Blackhawks Fan Convention.

The event, hosted at the Chicago Hilton, drew an estimated 10,000 fans to the International Ballroom on Friday evening to watch Richards and other Blackhawks "low-five" their way down a fashion runway during the opening ceremonies.

"It's overwhelming trying to think of all these names I've got already," said Richards, whose previous contract was bought out by the New York Rangers this offseason. "I guess if you're going to come to a new team, this is a way to meet the whole organization. I've been here since Wednesday and it's been a lot of fun."

It didn't take Richards long to have some fun with a couple of popular Blackhawks' nicknames. While speaking with reporters, Richards started referring to Chicago's cornerstone forwards -- Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane -- as "Jonathan and Patrick."

He eventually stopped himself, mid-sentence, to ask a rhetorical question.

"I shouldn't call him Jonathan," Richards said, smirking. "Does anybody call him Jonathan? It's pretty official. Taser and Kaner?"

That's what teammates already call the two cornerstones, so Richards is catching on quick.

Aside from an NHL All-Star Game with Toews and Kane, Richards hadn't played with any current Blackhawks at other stops in his career. That made the early transition period a little strange, but the convention is speeding up the indoctrination as a Blackhawks regular.

"You can tell the Blackhawks are big part of this town and the organization has been great trying to help me to fit in," Richards said. "It's good to meet everybody. When I come to training camp, it won't be as daunting now. It's a lot [to take in], but if you're coming to a team, you might as well do it all at once and get accustomed to what it's like to be a Blackhawks [player]."

Most Blackhawks, if asked, say part of the gig is discussing the conundrum of the team's second-line center. The Blackhawks have searched for a capable middle man to play that spot -- which usually means playing with Kane at right wing -- for a number of years.

They used patch-work solutions at that position to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013 and also came within an overtime goal in Game 7 of the 2014 Western Conference Final of playing for it a second straight season using that method.

Now they have Richards, 35, who could shore up an area the center-heavy Los Angeles Kings exploited in that conference final.

The Blackhawks did win the Cup in 2013 using veteran Michal Handzus to center Kane's line, but that fact alone is why the arrival of Richards has sparked excitement. He might not be a top guy in the middle now, but some feel there's plenty left in the tank as a second-line center -- especially when surrounded by forwards like Brandon Saad and Kane.

Hadzus, an unrestricted free agent, won't be back with the Blackhawks.

"It gives us a lot more options," coach Joel Quenneville, a mix-and-match artist, said of adding Richards. "You can just never have enough depth in the middle and I think he's just going to enhance our skill and our talent in the middle of the ice. So, way more options as a coach with him in there and it gives us way more depth in all our lines."

Against the Kings, Quenneville bumped third-line center Andrew Shaw up to play in between left wing Saad and Kane on the second unit. It worked out great, but Quenneville said Richards will likely get the first look at centering Saad and Kane this season.

That would allow Shaw to move back down to his more familiar role on the top checking line, which theoretically provides more of that depth down the middle.

"We'll see how long it lasts if it is [the plan]," Saad said of playing next to Richards. "He's a great player, so we're happy to have him and he's a good addition for our team. Regardless of what the line combinations are, it definitely helps our team out a lot."

Richards was also cautious about over-hyping his new line. He might not know all the new names or faces, but he's been around long enough to know what's on paper doesn't always translate to the ice.

"I've only watched [Kane], and he's exciting to watch," Richards said. "All of that is played out when you get on the ice. It's the part that's so hard to talk about now because it might or might not work. Until you get on the ice and learn tendencies and get to know him more, [you don't know]. We're going to do that as we get into training camp. All that stuff has to kind of [happen] naturally and then just see where it goes."

In the meantime, there's just a few more nicknames he'll need to memorize.

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