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Filling Toews' spot, Bolland could get offensive

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- He's known as the ultimate checking-line center, who can make plays at both ends of the rink but especially irritate stars on opposing top lines by harassing them defensively.

That's what Dave Bolland is for with the Chicago Blackhawks, along with being a nightmare for the Vancouver Canucks and their uber-talented Sedin twins.

But, his reputation precedes him so much that it's easy to overlook what Bolland contributes in the offensive zone. He's tied for fourth on the Hawks in goals with 14 goals through 45 games heading into Tuesday night's matchup against the visiting Nashville Predators and has potted six of them in the past eight outings.

Now Bolland will try to help the Hawks make up for the loss of captain Jonathan Toews -- who will miss at least the Nashville game and the All Star Game because of an upper body injury. Bolland will center Chicago's top line between Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Kane, which could help bring out his offensive side even more.

"I've played with him a few times before and I think he's an awesome player,"  Stalberg said. "He makes smart plays out there. If you get open, he'll find you. He's not too much different than (Toews) that way. He's just not put in that position too often."

Looking at his career, Bolland has usually responded well when he has been put into that position before -- especially in 2005-06 for his last season of junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights.

That was two seasons after the Hawks selected him in the second round (32nd overall) of the 2004 NHL Draft and Bolland's offensive stats skyrocketed. He'd scored 37 and 34 goals in his previous two seasons with the Knights, but tallied a whopping 57 goals and 73 assists for 130 points in 2006, before racking up another 15 goals and 9 assists in 15 playoff games.

He also scored three goals and added a pair of assists for Canada in six games at the World Junior Championship that year. Granted, that wasn't the NHL and Bolland was playing a much different role than he does for the Hawks. Still, 130 points in just 59 games?

That's impressive and possibly an indication of how much offensive ability Bolland still has left in him at the NHL level.

"I put up big numbers (in junior)," Bolland said after Tuesday's morning skate at the United Center. "Things come and things go. When I'm playing that third-line role, I might not get those (offensive) chances or that time to get those chances. When it comes, you've got to sort of roll with it and take charge. At the same time, you just want to play your game and be sure that you're helping out the team and doing anything you can to help get the win."

That's the kind of talk that Hawks coach Joel Quenneville hopes to hear from Bolland, who's found a good measure of offensive success in the League by simply playing great defense.

"We don't want him to change his game or play like Johnny [Toews]," Quenneville said. "Just play your own game. Offensively or defensively, Bolly has some good skills and good play recognitions in both areas and that line doesn't have to change their focus on how they want to play. We all have a rhyme or reason with and without the puck and your job description going up there doesn't really change at all."

Backing Quenneville up are the team-high three short-handed goals that Bolland's scored this season, which often happen as the direct result of a defensive play he makes to kill off a power play.

"There are some times you do want to get into that offensive role and [go] forward with it, but for myself it's just sticking to my same game," Bolland said. "Hopefully Toews is not out that long and it's just a minor thing. When a guy goes down, everybody's got to step up. It's just the way it goes. It's not changing our game. Let's just keep our game the same and keep playing hard."

It's hard not to look at Bolland's skill level, however, and not wonder if the second-line center that Chicago's said to be looking for isn't already wearing a No. 36 Hawks uniform. His ability at both ends of the rink haven't been overlooked by his teammates, and the more exposure he gets playing "up" with the top six forward group, the better chance he'll have of shining offensively.

"I'm sure he's looking at it as an opportunity," veteran Hawks forward Jamal Mayers said of Bolland filling in for Toews on Tuesday. "Anyone who knows the game knows his background and that he does have that skill set, but he has had a certain role on this team and he's relished that role and it doesn't take away anything from what we know he can do."
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