Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell has big shoes to fill. They happen to be his own.
"I don't just want to be a one-hit wonder," Bickell told NHL.com.
Bickell soared up the charts last season with his performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He played a starring role in Chicago's championship run with nine goals, including two game-winners and the tying goal with 76 seconds left in Chicago's Cup-clinching win in Boston. He also had eight assists for 17 points in 23 games, playing top-line minutes with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on many nights.
His memorable postseason earned Bickell a four-year contract extension worth $16 million. He hasn't been memorable since, but the Blackhawks need him to be now because they know how important a 6-foot-4, 233-pound power forward with skill around the net is to their championship hopes.
"They know and I feel I know I am crucial," Bickell said. "That's why I signed for what I signed for, to be part of this team, to be part of this core, to help us win again. I feel last year I was a big part. It's my time of year. I need to perform."
Bickell had thumb surgery in the offseason that set him back in his summer training, which was already going to be limited because of Chicago's deep playoff run. He was ready to go by opening night, but throughout the season he was plagued by inconsistent play, his own confidence issues, a coach that didn't believe in him, and two more injuries, one to his left knee and another which has only been described as "upper body."
When healthy, Bickell wasn't physical enough. He played too much on the outside. He didn't attack. That menacing growl from last spring, the one framed by a beard which looked like grass growing in the wild, was gone.
Sure there were flashes of how he played in the playoffs last year, particularly after the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but then the upper-body injury forced him out for six games, derailing his momentum.
"Consistency," Bickell said when asked what his biggest problem has been this season. "I know there was a stretch of maybe a dozen games when I didn't have much confidence in myself and [Chicago coach Joel Quenneville] didn't have confidence in me to put me on the ice."
Bickell is ready to move past his forgettable regular season now that the playoffs have arrived. He said he can once again be a difference-maker all over the ice, including on the score sheet, because of how the game is played in the postseason.
He's a physical player who thrives in the grinding-type games prevalent in playoff hockey.
"Some games in the regular season are more a finesse game, a puck-possession [game], but come playoffs it's more bump and grind, get the puck deep, straight lines, get the puck to the net," Bickell said. "The goals you're going to score in the playoffs are not the tic-tac-toe kind. You might get one or two goals like that in a series, but it's more the grinding, getting the puck deep, putting pressure on the 'D', looking for turnovers, getting the puck to the net and getting your second opportunities.
"I am confident in playoff hockey. I don't want to say I'm not confident in the regular season, but the level of physicality and the game, maybe the pressure, it falls in my favor. I enjoy playoff hockey. That's where I feel I play my best."