Chicago Blackhawks: Grading Each Player Through the First Quarter of the Season

Andy Campbell @@andycampbell16Correspondent IDecember 22, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks: Grading Each Player Through the First Quarter of the Season

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    After skating to a 5-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks are leading the NHL with 48 points.

    Though there have been times during the season when they have been streaky, Hawks fans should be pleased at the start they have had.

    For teams to win, the teams' best players have to perform. This much we have been seeing in the Windy City. By most observations, they Hawks will still need to improve, perhaps adding some help from the outside.

    While the top guns have produced, some have fallen flat and some are a mixed bag.

    Lets take a quick look at how each Chicago hockey scholar has done through the first marking period of the season. Players that have played less than ten games (Smith, Morin, Pirri, etc.) will receive an incomplete for now. 

Duncan Keith: B+

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    Duncan Keith would get a solid "A" if this were merely for the last five games. Keith did not have the best November and many questioned if he is the same player he was when he won the Norris Trophy in 2009-10.  

    Keith still puts on a lot of mileage and was huge when Brent Seabrook was knocked out of the game against the Calgary Flames last Sunday night.

    Hopefully Keith will continue to perform the way he has the last couple of weeks. 

Niklas Hjalmarsson: B-

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    A lot of folks, myself included, were hoping that Niklas Hjalmarsson was going to provide more of an offensive spark this season.

    Now, those same folks, myself not included, are calling for him to be dealt for better personnel. I do not think Hjalmarsson has been anything extraordinary this year, but he is a pretty darn good player to have around.

    At a plus-7 rating, the 24-year-old may still have his best days in front of him. Nobody in the NHL has blocked more shots than No. 4. 

Steve Montador: B

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    Steve Montador is another member of the Hawks that did not come flying out of the gate. He finally found his way in early November and has played a crucial role to date.

    For the most part, Montador has been everything the Hawks hoped for this year and, at one point, found himself an offensive weapon on the second-team powerplay. He has shown good reads and a knack for jumping in the play offensively.

    The Hawks will need Montador to continue to keep opposing teams off the score sheet if they are to be successful.

Sean O'Donnell: D

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    It will be interesting to see how O.D. is used down the stretch. Right now, Sean O'Donnell is not much more than added depth at defense. He has been a healthy scratch more often than not recently, and when the Hawks had their woes in November, he was in the lineup.

    O'Donnell's age has caught up to him, and I wonder if he will see any ice in the post season. Tough things to write about someone that has had a fine career, but the writing is on the wall. 

Brent Seabrook: B+

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    When the Hawks lost Brent Seabrook for a few games earlier this season, they were in peril. There has never been a time when his value was more evident.

    He is not the stat machine, but he is the rock. If it were not for No. 19, this would be the man who would wear the "C" on his jersey.

    Seabrook had some turnover issues in the beginning of the year, but this seems to have remedied. Thankfully the hit he took last Sunday night has not kept him out. The Hawks will continue to need this guy badly.

Nick Leddy: B

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    There has clearly been no sophomore slump when it comes to Nick Leddy. He is miles ahead of the player he was last year, and now we are seeing the 20 year old blossom into a true professional.

    His start to the month of December is the one thing keeping him out of the A-/B+ range. So far this month he is a minus-1 and has two assists in 10 games. 

    For a top-four defenseman, he will need to continue to improve his game as the season goes along.

Patrick Sharp: A

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    He has control of his game. He shoots from anywhere and everywhere. He's a great teammate and now a great father. What more can you ask from a new dad than back to back overtime goals?

    Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are in sync and it has been fun to watch. Sharp is plus-17 and is a point-per-game-player, with 18 goals and 18 assists.

    For the role he plays, he is a solid "A" at this point of the season.

Daniel Carcillo: C-

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    I am not going to do it. I will not buy into the value-add that some people think Dan Carcillo is. Hawks fans, for some reason, do not recall that the Flyers made him a healthy scratch after the first two games of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals because he was such a disaster.

    He had some moments with the Big Hoss and Kaner, but who wouldn't playing with those two? He is not smart with the puck and not good in his own zone. 

    He mixes it up from time to time, and from time to time he thinks he is good enough to dangle. He has not exactly hurt the Hawks, but I am hoping the Hawks can find a player that is tough and has skill.

    They are out there too. Lots of them.

    I hope Carcillo is gone or a healthy scratch come playoff time.

Andrew Brunette: C

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    All signs point to Andrew Brunette as being a one-year rental with the Hawks. He started off well and still gets to the net, but he has not found a home on any line.

    He has eight goals, which is decent, but his minus-7 is a killer right now. There is time for Brunette, and hopefully he can be a 20-goal scorer by season's end.

    He turned in a solid effort against the Habs on Wednesday night.

Marcus Kruger: B+

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    Marcus Kruger has proven that he is not only NHL-ready, but a really solid two-way hockey player. He has skill, is terrific with in-zone play, and despite his size, gets the the net with purpose.

    He did not have a good training camp, but there is not a chance that he will see time in Rockford this season.

    A scary moment for him with the hit he took against the Penguins on Tuesday night. Let's hope he is alright and will not be out too long. If not, that will be an enormous loss to the Hawks.

Jonathan Toews: A

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    When you watch No. 19 in red, you are seeing the best center in the NHL. He is tied for the league lead with 20 goals and is on the tip of everyone's tongue in Hart Trophy conversations. 

    The ultimate leader and competitor, it is incredible how consistent his effort is night in and night out. There is nothing not to like about Johnny T.

Sami Lepisto: D

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    Maybe it is unfair to give Lepisto a tough grade and since he has only appeared in 10 games for the Hawks and is plus-4.

    Still, if you are not cracking the lineup on a team looking for help on defense, then there is something you are not doing right.

    Lepisto provides depth, but that may be it. He is somewhat unstable when he is out there and has not been making the best decisions. Good players play, and while he may not be trade bait, you will not see him in the line-up come postseason time if the Hawks are healthy.

Jamal Mayers: B+

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    Jamal Mayers was brought in to fill a fourth line role, and he has done a great job in doing that. He is never afraid to drop the gloves, provides leadership to a team that was starving for some this time last season and still moves the puck well.

    At this point of the season, an even rating of seven points should should not deter fans of the value of this player. He is doing exactly what he should be doing.

Viktor Stalberg: B-

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    If you look at stats alone, Viktor Stalberg's seven goals, 20 points and plus-10 rating look good. This does not take into account his inconsistencies throughout the year.

    He will look great when paired with Kane and Toews and if not, he may be invisible for a game or two.

    On Wednesday night he had a solid performance against the Canadiens, and hopefully we will see more of that.

    I would not be surprised if Bowman is considering moving Stalberg as he may not be in the Hawks long term plans.

Bryan Bickell: D-

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    The only thing keeping Bryan Bickell out of a failing grade was a good night on Wednesday. While he did decently in this extra credit project, it is clear that this is not a player that the Hawks have the patience to tolerate.

    Bickell has been a huge disappointment this season after a decent 17-goal campaign in 2010-2011.

    With a stat line of four goals, three assists and a minus-9 rating, it would be great if Santa could come early and trade Bickell for a used puck bag.

Ray Emery: A-

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    When your “backup” goalie has a 9-2 record in 14 appearances, that is a good thing.

    Ray Emery has been delightful in his role and has now made matters interesting with the Hawks’ goaltending responsibilities. 

    Corey Crawford started in the pipes for the Hawks on Wednesday night, but Emery had started in the previous five games. 

    If Emery keeps his play up, who knows what the Hawks will decide to do when the playoffs come around.

John Scott: D

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    One thing John Scott did well was stand up for his teammates when Marcus Kruger was railroaded against the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

    Other than that, that’s all he has done well in the first quarter. 

    It is nice to have guys like Scott around for those reasons. It’s too bad he is not a better hockey player. It's pretty tough watching the Hawks scramble to get the puck out of the zone when Scott is on the ice. 

    I’m not sure he will see much ice time, if any, in the postseason.

Dave Bolland: C+

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    You have to wonder if Dave Bolland is dinged up. After a torrent start he has slowed down dramatically. Bolland is still an essential piece to the Hawks' puzzle, and for those reasons it was difficult to watch him struggle through the month of November.

    All is all his minus-7 rating is not appealing for a player who's job is to keep the opposition off the scoreboard.

    Perhaps the one and only good thing about an all-star break is it gives players like Bolland a chance to rest up. Lord knows the Hawks will need him at his best down the stretch.

Corey Crawford: C+

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    Many feared a sophomore slump from Corey Crawford after he signed a contract extension over the summer. It's too bad that it happened.

    Regardless of his recent struggles, Crawford was vital in the Hawks picking up early points in October.

    A couple of years back, Antti Niemi had some difficulty throughout the season and was able to figure things out. With Emery playing well, we will not see Crawford wear out during the year.

    It was nice to see him on the winning end on Wednesday night as well.

    The trouble is, if the playoffs began today, what would you do? 

Michael Frolik: C+

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    When Michael Frolik came over from the Florida Panthers last season, he was used to being asked to score goals.

    Now, as a third line player, adjusting to a new role on a new team seems like it is still a work-in- progress. Frolik has had some good moments and one key goal in a win against the Minnesota Wild last week. 

    Moving forward, it will be critical to have Frolik have more of an emphasis on in-zone coverage. There is a good chance he will continue to be matched up against team's top offensive units.

Marian Hossa: A

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    Give him a full offseason to recover and here's what happens. Marian Hossa is back as on the of the elite players in the NHL.

    He leads the Hawks with 38 points and a staggering plus-21 rating. Currently, that places him sixth in the NHL in scoring. 

    We could go through a rap sheet of what he does well but that would be hours of reading. What does he not do well? Nothing.

    Just stay healthy Big Hoss. You've been a force this season.

Patrick Kane: A

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    Why is he smiling? Perhaps it's because he's tied for fifth in the NHL in assists.

    Patrick Kane was asked to play center to begin the year, and despite not being the best in the face-off dot, he did well in all other areas.

    He is still an elite offensive player and a key cog for the Hawks this season. With 34 points in 35 games, look for No. 88 to turn it up a notch down the stretch.