The Chicago Blackhawks had several rookies in their lineup throughout the 2010-11 season. Backup goalie Corey Crawford won most of the raves based on his play down the stretch, but another young man in an Indian head sweater should garner some props for his first full season with the Blackhawks.
How about a little respect for forward Bryan Bickell?
The 'Hawks second-round pick in the 2004 draft, Bickell put in his first full season in Chicago after appearing in 16 games in 2009-10. In my opinion, the 25-year-old wing had a season that went beyond expectations.
However, at times it seemed like fans took Bickell to task for what he didn't or couldn't do this season.
The song goes like this: Bickell is too soft, and he doesn't crash the net.
It's true that he seemed to settle for wrist shots from just inside the blue line a few too many times. It would be great if the 6'4'', 225-pound forward would play to his size more consistently.
Bickell is at his best when he plays a simple, physical brand of hockey. At times, he strays from that strategy and has been benched on at least one occasion as a result.
That said, let's look at what Bickell was able to accomplish this season.
Bickell had 17 goals in 2010-11 to go with 20 assists. That ranked him ninth among NHL rookies in goals this season and 12th in points. He was credited for 178 hits, the second-highest rookie total (also good for third on the 'Hawks after Troy Brouwer and Brent Seabrook), and was a plus-six in 78 games.
Bickell saw action up and down the lineup. He spent a lot of time on the checking line and proved a good fit with players like Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik. He took good care of the puck and was solid defensively.
Despite lacerating a tendon in his wrist in Game 3 of the 'Hawks playoff series with Vancouver, Bickell returned to become a key factor in Chicago getting back into the series. I think the fact that Bickell played three big games with a wrist that needed surgery to repair says something about his toughness.
Bickell did all of this while being paid the NHL minimum. He has two more seasons on a three-year contract that sees his salary soar to $525,000 and $600,000 in the next two years. If he can approach his production in the final two years of the deal, he's a huge bargain.
In Bickell, the 'Hawks have a solid producer for half the salary you'd expect to pay a player that produced his numbers. From an overall standpoint, what's not to like about the guy?
Judging from statements from the organization, Bickell should be fully recovered from wrist surgery with plenty of time to begin preparations for next season. Will he prove to be as durable and cost-effective a player as he was in 2010-11? Can he take another step and be a consistent physical presence? We can only hope.
One thing is for certain, however: Bryan Bickell's rookie campaign was worthy of respect.