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Blackhawks have high hopes for Regin at center

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- It has the potential to be another of those under-the-radar trades that makes Stan Bowman look brilliant down the road.

The Chicago Blackhawks general manager traded a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to the New York Islanders on Feb. 6 to acquire a couple of forwards who have NHL experience playing center.

Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are now Blackhawks assets, with Regin starting out in Chicago and Bouchard playing for the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Regin is likely to start by getting a shot to play with Patrick Kane on a highly talented second line.

The Chicago Blackhawks hope Peter Regin, acquired from the New York Islanders before the Olympic break, can fill the hole in the middle of the second line. (Photo: Norm Hall/NHLI)

"I'm not 100 percent sure exactly what kind of player [he is] or the role [he'll play]," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after practice Tuesday. "I think he can score and he can make plays. I think reliability is part of his game. [We'll] give him a chance offensively to see what's there."

Regin struggled offensively with the Islanders, managing two goals and seven points in 44 games. But his skating ability and experience in the middle intrigue Quenneville; that's why he's likely to get an early look next to Kane.

Bowman also decided to drop from eight defensemen to seven over the break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which meant losing Michael Kostka to the Tampa Bay Lightning via waivers. Kostka played in nine games as Quenneville rotated his sixth defensemen among three veterans. Regin's ability to play center gives him a chance to play more often.

The 27-year old played one game with Chicago prior to the break, a 2-0 road loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, but Kane missed that game to attend his grandfather's funeral. It looks like the two will get the chance to take some shifts together Thursday against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, but anything is possible after that.

"You get to play with a guy like [Kane] and ... you probably get a pretty good assessment of how that's going to work," Quenneville said. "We have a lot of options with him, but I think that versatility and [having] one more guy in the middle really gives us more options. But I'd like to see how that would work right off the bat."

Regin would too.

"That would obviously be a huge opportunity," said Regin, who's from Denmark and broke into the NHL by playing parts of five seasons with the Ottawa Senators. "He probably has the best hands in the world and is one of the most creative players, if not the most creative [in the NHL]. So if I get a chance to play with him, I'll be excited and try to make the most of it."

If it works, it could be similar to understated moves that have worked out well for Bowman the past few seasons. He acquired puck-moving defenseman Johnny Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL Trade Deadline in 2012 and obtained veteran center Michal Handzus prior to the deadline last season.

Oduya and Handzus each played key supporting roles in Chicago's run to the 2013 Stanley Cup title, so the most recent trade begs the question: Is this the next big "quiet" move?

Veteran forward Kris Versteeg, whom Bowman reacquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers earlier this season, said it has that potential, especially when it comes to Regin. Versteeg played on Regin's line in the loss to Phoenix and was on his left wing again during practice Tuesday, with Marian Hossa on the right.

Peter Regin
Center - CHI
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 7
SOG: 54 | +/-: -10
"I remember playing against him when he was with Ottawa and he's a highly skilled player," Versteeg said. "I don't think he's been given an opportunity to play much in this League. Maybe a little bit in Ottawa, but he's a guy who needs to be playing with skilled players to be able to create stuff. I know he's a guy who's champing at the bit for a chance and hopefully he makes good with it."

It would certainly help the Blackhawks solve the hole they seem to perpetually have in the middle of an otherwise-elite second line.

"He's got the skill level and he's got all the tools," Versteeg said. "Regin is a natural centerman and hopefully he can come in and take that position. It's kind of been up for grabs for a while."

That's putting it mildly. The fact of the matter is that Chicago has found ways to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013 without a true center on the second line. In 2010, Patrick Sharp did a great job at that position during the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite preferring to play on the wing. Handzus filled that role admirably last spring.

As for the regular season, the Blackhawks are still looking for a permanent answer.

The hope among the team's brass is that highly skilled prospect Teuvo Teravainen, whom some call the "Finnish Patrick Kane," will eventually seize control of that spot for years to come. Until he's ready, it's being handled piecemeal.

The Blackhawks have played Handzus, rookie Brandon Pirri, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw at that spot this season, with Versteeg getting a brief look there next to Kane. In seasons past, they've tried Kane in the middle along with other options, including former center Dave Bolland.

If Regin is a good fit, there's a chance he might be the latest answer.

"It's pretty amazing," Versteeg said. "We've tried everyone and still seem to find a way to win. You have guys ... I think Teravainen is his name. I've just been hearing about him. Maybe he'll be the guy in the future. Hopefully Regin will be that guy right now and it can help catapult his career in the right direction."

Regin, who could be playing in his second game of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on Saturday night at Soldier Field, is also hoping for that outcome.

"I talked to [Quenneville] a little bit and he didn't say much about [my role]," Regin said. "He just told me to kind of enjoy it and play the way I can and not think too much. They play an aggressive style here and if you think too much, you're not aggressive. I don't think he wants to put too much in my head right now. We obviously have some strategies defensively, but offensively he lets the guys use their skill and creativity."

That's the part he's looking forward to most. Regin has good speed and hopes to use it to create havoc for opponents.

"That's the way they play here," Regin said. "They always play with a lot of energy and that's the feeling when you play against the Blackhawks, that they're just flying around everywhere and no matter where you are, there's always one on you. It's a fun way to play."

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