Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville usually is cautious with rookies, but he has been vocal about his approval of how cleverly defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk used his skills before the 23-year-old New Jersey native fractured his kneecap in November and underwent wrist surgery in early April.
Quenneville is so impressed with Van Riemsdyk — and maybe so little impressed with his fifth and sixth defensemen — that he said Wednesday there’s a “very good chance” Van Riemsdyk will play against the Tampa Bay Lightning sometime during the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday night at Amalie Arena.
Quenneville, speaking after his team’s morning skate, said Van Riemsdyk wouldn’t play Wednesday but was “real close” to being a consideration. Quenneville has given heavy minutes to his top four — Duncan Keith (31:35), Niklas Hjalmarsson (26:33), Brent Seabrook (26:21) and Johnny Oduya (25:23) — because there’s a steep dropoff after that quartet. Kimmo Timonen, 40, had so much trouble keeping up against the Ducks in the Western Conference final that Quenneville removed him from the lineup; Kyle Cumiskey has averaged 11:14 over six games and David Rundblad has averaged 7:25 over three games. Van Riemsdyk apparently is a more appealing option than restoring Timonen.
“We saw first-hand what he was able to do when he came into training camp. Surprised us all how well he played, how effective and efficient he is,” Quenneville said. “We’ve been skating him in practice every day. One of his strengths is his reads, [he’s] positionally aware, decision-making with the puck. He’s got a lot of attributes that can help our team.
“I think he came onto the scene rather fast for us. I think we have a lot of confidence and trust in him.”
Quenneville also said he hadn’t decided whether to keep center Jonathan Toews and right wing Patrick Kane together, as they were during the final two games against the Ducks. But it’s reasonable to expect he will do that, because the duo was so successful. Kane had a goal and five points in those two games and Toews had two goals.
“Tough to forecast long-term on that. Last two games, they were so good together, it’s tough to get them apart now,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see how the game goes matchup-wise. Certainly have some balance if you get them apart. Together, pretty dynamic the last two games. We’ll visit that, how the games are going, how the matchup is.”
The matchups could be complicated by the fact the Lightning usually deploys 11 forwards and seven defensemen rather than 12 forwards and six defensemen. But Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said he’s confident his team can adjust as needed.
“It just means you’ve got to try to wear down more defensemen and make sure we’re getting pucks behind them to tire them out,” he said. “And for the 11 forwards, it’s going to be tough. Those guys are going to be double-shifted and you’ve got to play hard on them, as well.”
Chicago center Brad Richards — who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and won the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs — said the Lightning might pose a slightly different challenge than the Blackhawks have faced against Nashville, Minnesota and the Ducks.
“We’ve played some good teams. It’s tough to get out of our division,” he said. “Nashville, it’s a while ago, but that was a really tough series. Triple-overtime, double-overtime wins. That was really fast. Anaheim was really fast. I think we’ve played some fast teams. I know this team is fast so I think we’re ready. Our team likes to play fast, too, so I think we’re ready for that.
“I don’t think, the natural ability to score, we’ve seen, where they can turn something into nothing, I don’t think we’ve seen that in the playoffs. Or we’ve done a good job shutting it down. Hopefully it’s the latter and we can do that here.”