Brandon Saad has been a suitable—if not better overall—player for the Blackhawks on the first line. That has led to the dilemma of where to put Carcillo when he returns to the lineup.
Carcillo has skated in only one Blackhawks game since Jan. 2, 2012, when he suffered a season-ending injury to his left knee.
Coming back for the season opener on Jan. 19 against the Los Angeles Kings, Carcillo was put on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
But as luck would have it, Carcillo injured his right knee in that contest, forcing him out for at least one month of the season.
Carcillo practiced with his teammates on Thursday for the first time since spraining his knee.
It's been a while since the injury, but coach Joel Quenneville knew he would have to make a tough decision once Carcillo was healthy (via Chicago Sun-Times):
We'll see after a couple of practices. He looked pretty good, skated well. He's further along than we anticipated. We'll keep pushing him, get in a couple of good skates and get a better idea of when.
The real question is, who deserves to be on the top line with Toews and Hossa?
Saad has proven that he has the skill and ability to stay with the Blackhawks' top line—even if the stat sheet says otherwise. The potential is there for the 20-year-old, and Quenneville will likely start skill over tough guy 90 percent of the time.
Carcillo, meanwhile, isn't worried about where he plays once he comes back (via Chicago Sun-Times):
It’s not up to me. I just need to get ready and work as hard as I can. Wherever I get in the lineup, I’m going to be happy and grateful. The team’s been amazing. That’s why there’s been no real urgency [to return] on my part. All I can do is worry about myself. I feel like everything else will fall into place for me.
Saad should rightfully start over Carcillo on the first line, but the latter will still get his crack at the Blackhawks roster.
As competitive as the Blackhawks roster is, Carcillo still brings a grittiness and hitting ability that this team needs. He is likely to get his start on the third or fourth lines, knocking either Brandon Bollig or Jamal Mayers out of the starting lineup.
With time, Carcillo could move up in the lineup—especially if there is a key injury on one of the top two lines.
Regardless, this should be viewed as a "good" problem for the Blackhawks. Having this much depth will be crucial to any long playoff run that the Blackhawks hope to achieve this season.
Even with Saad replacing him on the top line, Carcillo is an important player for this team.
Patrick Kane praised Carcillo for his ability to move to any position in the lineup (via Chicago Sun-Times):
He’s one of those players that can play in any role or any line. And he has a lot of skill for a tough guy. He’s a player that can get under [the skin of] opposing teams’ best players. I think he’ll be real effective once we get him back. He’ll definitely be a help to our team.
With an already deep lineup and a 10-0-3 record, the Blackhawks will only benefit from getting Carcillo back after the long layoff.
Let's just see how long he lasts until the next injury.
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