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Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane and 5 Hawks Who Will Break out in 2012

Matt BauerCorrespondent IIOctober 6, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane and 5 Hawks Who Will Break out in 2012

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    The Chicago Blackhawks were one goal away from eliminating the Vancouver Canucks from the 2011 NHL playoffs for the third consecutive year.

    The 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, who sneaked into postseason action on the last day of the regular season, played seven hard-fought Western Conference quarterfinals games against Vancouver before being eliminated on an Alex Burrows overtime goal.

    The Hawks were outplayed by the Canucks in five of the seven games that the two teams faced off in. However, Chicago had the opportunities to send Vancouver home packing, yet again.

    There were some positives from some Blackhawks that helped them get to OT of Game 7, and there was some level of underachieving from certain Blackhawks that prevented them from eliminating Vancouver.

    Patrick Kane was one Blackhawks player who did not play the significant role the team planned on him to fulfill, and his work ethic in the offseason shows that he's ready to move on from those failures and prove all of his critics wrong.

    Kane is not the only player that is going to improve this coming season. Here is a list of five Blackhawks who are going to take the next step in their careers, and will play a significant role in the team's quest for a second Stanley Cup in three years.

1. Nick Leddy

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    Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman made a handful of significant moves in the offseason, and one that was eye-catching to the hockey world was trading Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers

    It wasn't surprising that Campbell was traded to Florida because Dale Tallon (former Blackhawks GM), now has the same role with the Panthers, and the two teams have a recent history of making trades with one another.

    Bowman signed a couple of other blueliners in the offseason with the money the team saved by ridding itself of Campbell's contract. It's now time for Nick Leddy to take on a little more responsibility and play a more significant role with this current Hawks team.

    Leddy is only 20 years old, but he played 46 games with the NHL club last year in addition to the seven playoff games against Vancouver. He's seen it all, and knows what it takes to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. 

    The Blackhawks may have signed some veterans skaters this summer, but the team is still fairly young. There are 11 players on the current roster that are no older than 25 years old, including Leddy. A handful of these young skaters do not have a guaranteed roster spot for the entire season. 

    Leddy will more than likely remain on the NHL roster for all 82 games this season, but he needs to have a more significant impact on the ice in order for the Hawks defense to not rely on Olympic Gold Medalists Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

    Look for Leddy to fill the shoes of the departed Campbell, and play a significant role at the blueline this year for the Hawks.

2. Michael Frolik

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    Michael Frolik has been in the NHL for just three years. He was drafted by the Florida Panthers in 2006, and he made his NHL debut for them in 2008 where he proceeded to tally 45 points in his rookie season.

    Frolik's offensive production decreased in each season since 2008, and this was part of the reason why Panthers GM Dale Tallon decided to trade Frolik to the Hawks in the middle of last season.

    Frolik was once seen as the future of the Panthers' franchise, but clearly that didn't pan out. He is now a talented forward in the shadows of a core group of Blackhawks stars.

    And those shadows are the best thing that's happened to the young European. The pressure to carry the load is no longer on Michael, and this will benefit him enormously.

    Frolik made a positive impact for the Hawks as soon as he put on his Indian head sweater. He skated hard, crashed the net, and put shots on goal whenever he had the chance.

    It took Frolik 10 games before he scored his first goal with the Blackhawks, but in his case, numbers do not define the positive impact he provided his team.

    Frolik's experience with the Hawks in 2011, and his lesser role in Chicago will allow him to thrive with the Blackhawks this coming season. He has the motivation to win, the speed and skill-set to have a 50-plus-point season, and he'll be a huge part of the Blackhawks' success in 2012.

    It seemed as if Frolik thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to compete for a Stanley Cup Championship when he came to Chicago, and he'll carry his drive from 2011 over into the 2012 season.

    I strongly believe Frolik will be one of the Blackhawks' top players outside of "the core."

3. Bryan Bickell

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    Bryan Bickell's game made significant improvements in 2011, and he has the potential to be even better this upcoming season with the Blackhawks.

    Bickell's 6'4'' 223-lb frame isn't exactly the replacement for former Hawk and current Jet Dustin Byfuglien, but Joel Quenneville can make due with Bickell. 

    He is a very physical forward who has shown he can lay the wood on his opponents, and he has the talent to be a 20-plus goal scorer because of the players that surround him.

    Bickell is another guy who will thrive with the Blackhawks, and he'll make a significant impact on both sides of the puck in the upcoming season.

    Bickell's size and skill-set allow him to be a terror for his opponents on offense because of his wide variety of talent. I expect big things from this guy in the upcoming Hawks' season, both offensively and defensively.

4. Ben Smith

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    Ben Smith played in more playoff games (7) in 2011 than regular season games (6). And he played significant minutes for Coach Q's Blackhawks in the playoffs.

    Smith's short NHL career is highlighted by his Game 6 game-winning goal in OT against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, but Smith is better than his numbers on the stat sheet show. Smith is only 23 years old and he is as strong as an ox. He fights for pucks and, more times than not, he wins those pucks battles which creates scoring opportunities for his teammates. 

    Coach Q had the faith in Smith to play him in OT during the postseason, and, at times, you could find Smith on the top offensive line centered by Jonathan Toews.

    Smith's quick taste of NHL success will only benefit him, and is going to do all he can in order to help his team reclaim the Stanley Cup. He's also surrounded by young talent and experienced veterans who know what it takes to succeed in the NHL.

    Smith's strength and grit he brings on the ice will keep him in the NHL for all 82, barring and physical setbacks. Don't be surprised if he quietly records a 30-point season.

Patrick Kane

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    Kane did not have the most ideal 2011 campaign, but since then, he has shown he's ready to move past that and focus on the task at hand.

    Mid-summer, Kane was pictured looking quite swoll as if he had gone from rink-rat to gym-rat. That was the first sign that he was no longer focusing on his nightlife escapes, and now is focusing on the potential of his career.

    Kane had wrist surgery this summer, but he's going to be ready for opening night, and Coach Q has decided that he's going to center the second line. 

    Kane has more responsibility this year than he has in the past, and it truly seems as if he's ready to take on that responsibility and be the player the entire world saw in the 2010 Olympics.

    Kane has had solid seasons in the past, but he has the potential to be a point-per-night type of guy, and even tally up close to 90 or 100 points.

    In that case, the Blackhawks are in good shape to make some serious noise throughout the entire season.

    With that being said, #CueTheChelseaDagger!

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