Is Andrew Shaw a Long-Term Option as Chicago Blackhawks' No. 2 Center?

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Is Andrew Shaw a Long-Term Option as Chicago Blackhawks' No. 2 Center?
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Whew!

After dropping four games in a row, the Blackhawks played like Stanley Cup champions as they rolled over the Vancouver Canucks by a 5-2 margin on Wednesday night.

After giving up the first two goals of the game in the Pacific Northwest, the Blackhawks scored four goals in less than eight minutes in the second period to take charge of the game.

That's how head coach Joel Quenneville expects his team to play the rest of the way. While this team is obviously explosive with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp leading the way, there are several areas of concern.

Perhaps the biggest issue is whether Andrew Shaw can handle the responsibility of being the team's No. 2 center.

He lacks size at 5'10" and 180 pounds, and his skating is not elite, but he makes up for those shortcomings in other ways.

Who can forget his triple overtime goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins last June? While Shaw is not known for scoring huge goals, he was not afraid to put himself in the line of fire during that critical game as Michal Rozsival's shot from the point deflected off his shin pad and into the net behind Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.

If that game had gone to the Bruins, the Blackhawks might not have been victorious in that six-game series.

Shaw is an agitator of the highest variety. He knows how to get under an opponent's skin with the best of them in the NHL. That's an important role, because a sharp remark, a well-placed jab or a hard check just might draw his opponent into taking a costly penalty that gives the explosive Blackhawks a power-play opportunity.

But there is more to Shaw's game than just hanging on to a roster spot and wearing an NHL uniform. He works hard every day in practice and he is improving in all aspects of the game. Perhaps he is improving to the point where he could become the team's No. 2 center behind Toews, a two-time Olympian and the Blackhawks' captain.

Shaw did not see a well-defined role for himself like that when he made the team in 2011-12. He told Tracey Myers of CSNChicago.com that he was so thrilled when he first made it to the NHL that he would have been happy if he was just playing five minutes a game.

That's obviously no longer the case. Shaw has taken matters into his own hands and worked hard to improve his game in the last three years, and he is playing a more important role than ever before.

Quenneville has played Shaw as the No. 2 center between Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad at times, and while he has not kept those three together as an established line, he has liked what he has seen from them. 

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

"Offensively, [there's a] lot there. Everybody can do things together and they all can make plays on their own,” Quenneville told Myers. “The three of them together is the makings of a line that can be productive."

Shaw has also been used as a left wing on the third line with Michal Handzus at center and Saad on the right side.

In order to get more time at center, Shaw has to be productive as a playmaker and consistent on the defensive end. Shaw has scored 14 goals and added 11 assists in 54 games, and he has a plus-11 rating while playing 15:24 per game. He also has 57.9 Corsi For rating, which ranks seventh on the team.

Shaw has the capability of stepping up into the No. 2 center's role, but it doesn't seem likely that Quenneville is ready to let him stay in that position just yet. 

He needs to see better passing from Shaw and perhaps a more consistent defensive showing. He also needs to improve his skating.

What Shaw does have is an opportunity to show his coach that he is ready to improve, continue to work hard and earn that position with consistent play in the second half of the season.

If he does, Shaw could end up as the No. 2 center. If not, expect the Blackhawks to make a move at the trade deadline to find the right player for that job.

 

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