Throughout last season I was a strong believer that Troy Brouwer had no business being with the Chicago Blackhakws. Moreover, he had no business playing on the top line, with the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
But what is his actual role with the Blackhawks?
Although Brouwer had always been a dominate force in the AHL, he was never able to bring those "AHL hands" to the NHL and before this season really never knew who he was with the Blackhawks.
Is he a top six forward?
If you looked at his AHL numbers you would probably think so. In Brouwer's two seasons with the Norfolk Admirals and the Rockford Ice Hogs he scored 71 goals and 57 assists.
In his first NHL season, Brouwer was far from his AHL numbers, only recording 10 goals and 16 assists. He was getting time on the top two lines with the likes of Toews, Kane and Patrick Sharp.
So is he a fourth line checker/tough guy?
Well no. He may be a big body that likes to bang and get physical, but he also has above average hands for his size and probably wouldn't flourish in that role.
So what is he?
He's this year's Andrew Ladd. What do I mean by that?
Well, Brouwer is what I like to call a flex forward; he is that physical third line forward that can also jump into the offensive zone and score a few goals.
On Friday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs Brouwer played very well, converting on a nice tip in power play goal and a fight against the Leafs' Luke Schenn.
But really, the entire season has shown that Brouwer has what the Blackhawks need. He has fit very nicely on the third line with John Madden as well as on the power play with Patrick Sharp.
Brouwer currently tops the Blackhawks in hits with 58, an average of 3.2 hits per game, and is averaging nearly 15 minutes in ice time per game. All of which are impressive numbers.
So what does this mean for the Blackhawks?
Well, it means that the likes of Andrew Ladd and possibly Dustin Byfuglien are expendable in the offseason.
Now I don't mean that you could go and get rid of Ladd and Byfuglien, because you do need a number of big physical forwards in your lineup. But essentially, Byfuglien, Ladd and Brouwer are the same players.
So who ends up being the odd man out?
I'm not sure, but Byfuglien makes the most money and Andrew Ladd is due for a raise after the season so the likely departure is one of those two.
But that is a debate of another day.
However, if the early start to the season for Brouwer is any indication then you can expect quite a breakout for him; it could keep him in Chicago for years to come.