TAMPA – Chicago Blackhawks rookie defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk could play in Game 2 of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; CBC, NBC, TVA Sports), coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday.
If so, van Riemsdyk will play his first NHL game since Nov. 16 when he fractured his left patella blocking a shot in a 6-2 win against the Dallas Stars. He will also make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut on the biggest stage.
What gives Quenneville the confidence to put him right into the spotlight as the team’s fifth or sixth defenseman?
"Probably the way he shocked us, surprised us, when he first came in at [training] camp this year, [and] how well he played for us when he started the season," Quenneville said. "You can look at him a lot of nights, [and] he's out there against top players. He was out there late in periods. He was killing plays, making plays, reliable. He played, surprisingly, to a different level than we anticipated he could get to."
Still, that was more than six months ago.
There is no guarantee van Riemsdyk will be able to step into the Cup Final and contribute the way he did at the start of this season.
Without defenseman Michal Rozsival, who fractured his left ankle in a 4-3 win in Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Minnesota Wild, Chicago leaned on defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya in the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.
It was the same in Chicago’s 2-1 win in Game 1 against the Lightning at Amalie Arena on Wednesday, when the top four played 89 percent of the minutes logged by Blackhawks defensemen. If van Riemsdyk can bring that number down even a little, it should help all the defensemen become even more productive.
"He's a tremendous player," Oduya said of van Riemsdyk. "We saw him early in the year. He's one of those guys that I would pick that maybe could be out for a longer period of time and still come in and play very, very well. He's very smart. He's poised with the puck. [His] positioning is very good."
David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey have played the fifth and sixth defense roles for the Blackhawks, but neither has earned enough trust from Quenneville to play more than a few shifts a game.
Quenneville sounded curious to find out if van Riemsdyk can fare better than Rundblad and Cumiskey.
"Obviously we missed him when he got injured," Quenneville said. "Would have been a nice evolution over the course of the season to see how that would have ended. Unfortunately, a couple of major injuries [sidelined him], but he's [working] hard right now to get himself excited. But [it’s] nice to have that option, ready to go."