Like the “little engine that could” is an adequate way to describe the fourth lines NHL teams used to deploy. If your fourth-liners could skate was the metric their skill was based on, but if they could drop the gloves and protect your stars was the reason they had jobs. As time rolled on, the game passed the old fourth line like a Ferrari does a jalopy. To be competitive in today’s game, the Seattle Kraken has to employ three forwards that can do more than simply fight… but being able to drop the gloves isn’t a bad line item on the resume.
Lacing up the skates for the Seattle Kraken at left-wing could very well be Colin Blackwell. Talk about “little engine that could”! Last season with the New York Rangers Blackwell saw time on all four forward lines, some of his best playing alongside Artemi Panarin! The former 7th round journeyman looked equally at home with the slick skating Russian on the first line as he did with the rotating cast of checking forwards New York employed on the fourth line last season.
Despite being drafted in 2011, this firecracker has only started in 80 NHL games. Yet his play last season speaks volumes to what a man like himself can do when given the chance.
While having a standout season with the Rangers was a highlight, to add to his breakout season, Blackwell was chosen to represent the United States at the IIHF World Championship where he received player of the game honors and netted 4 goals over the course of the bronze medal run.
What Blackwell brings can’t be measure solely by statistics. There was not one shift the man seemed to give up on. His work along the boards comes with a lunchpail and his nose for open ice rivals anyone. Blackwell will also find a home on the PK. Plus, Colin is not afraid to muck it up when it is necessary. He will quickly become a fan favorite, hands down.
The fourth line center might be a revolving door, my bet is going to be placed on young Morgan Geekie. The 23-year-old 67th overall pick looks to finally get a full-time chance with an NHL club. Morgan was on the cusp of breaking through with the Carolina Hurricanes, but with that team so stacked at center, it was going to be hard to squeeze him in. So, here he is, back with Ron Francis, the man that drafted him.
Geekie plays a game that will compliment Blackwell fairly well. While being a solid two-way player himself, Geekie has a knack for scoring in high danger areas. He will routinely put his neck on the line to make plays rather than shy away from those situations. While he can put the puck in the net, his hands allow him to make stellar passes from tight spots with pinpoint accuracy.
The one knock on Geekie is his skating. He has a decent first step and acceleration but nothing that will be winning any speed records… just enough to keep up with the players he will be up against.
Another bright spot in his game, and one that he has worked on extensively, is his ability to win draws. As was mentioned in a previous article, anything above 50% is solid and in the 38 NHL games Geekie has played, his percentage is just shy of 53%. That goes a long way for a player that won’t see a ton of minutes because it means he can be trusted in big situations to win a draw.
Filling this role until Yanni Gourde is back on the ice will be a mixed bag. Nathan Bastian could see some time on the right side as could recently signed Riley Sheahan or maybe Kole Lind or Alexander True. It’s all going to come down to who has the best camp. Whomever it is will have to play solid two-way hockey and not be afraid to get their jersey dirty. The 29-year-old Sheahan, a natural center, has the experience that Coach Dave Hakstol might be wanting to fill that role but the reason for his signing might be to push one of the young kids in camp and give them some competition. Whomever it might be, though, will have to play their hearts out to remain once Gourde comes back. As soon as he does, someone is going to the press box.
The forward lines on opening night should look something like this:
Schwartz – Wennberg – Eberle
Johansson – McCann – Donskoi
Tanev – Jarnkrok – Appleton
Blackwell – Geekie – Bastian/True/Lind/Sheahan
In today’s NHL, the four lines any squad rolls out have to all be competitive in their own right. If there is a glaring weakness in any line, your foe will find it and exploit it. As far as the Seattle Kraken go, the way they drafted and signed players, the management staff made sure they didn’t have any of those glaring weaknesses. They didn’t stock the pond with studs, but what they did do was make sure the 12 forwards they put on the ice on any given night will go toe to toe with any team in the league. And for an expansion team, that is all you can ask for.
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