Brandon Pirri appears to be getting his chance to shine for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. The Hawks have had an issue filling the second line center position for a number of seasons, and Pirri may have the playing style that could finally end that search.
The Toronto native has produced at a point-per-game pace until his arrival at Rockford of the American Hockey League. In three seasons with Chicago’s top minor league affiliate, Brandon Pirri has increased his point production to just less than one point per game. This past season, Pirri scored 22 goals and had 75 points in 76 games. The 75 points earned him honors as the 2012-13 AHL scoring leader.
The hope in Chicago is that Pirri plays well enough to win the second line center job outright. To do so, Pirri has to get back on the ice. He is currently nursing a lower-body injury, but it is considered minor. When Pirri is back skating, he has to fend off fellow center Marcus Kruger and left wing/center Brandon Saad.
Kruger has thrived in a defensive role on the fourth line and top penalty killing unit. Fans got a glimpse of his offensive abilities with three goals in the playoffs to go along with the best PK unit. Saad was a Calder Trophy finalist last season for rookie of the year. If Saad cannot win the center job, he will more than likely play on the third line as an offensive-defensive duel-threat forward.
Another name to remember in the race for second line center is Michael Handzus. He was acquired before the 2012-13 trade deadline to win face-offs. He ended up centering the second line for majority of his time on the ice. His lack of speed makes him a liability on a offensive-laden line, but his passing is still on point.
Brandon Pirri is only 22, but has been on the Blackhawks’ radar as a contributor since he was 19. He spent time with the Black Aces, the players called up from Rockford to practice during the Stanley Cup run. He has seen what it takes to contribute on the highest level, but still has to prove it on both ends of the ice.
Pirri’s offensive talents make him a better fit on the second line, but a role on a lower line could give him extra time to figure out his game on the NHL level. I expect him to win the second line center job. With a chance to center a combo of Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Bryan Bickell, and Marian Hossa, fans could see another rookie of the year candidate. Much like Saad last season, any bumps Pirri will hit can be masked by the talent surrounding him.
Watch for Brandon Pirri’s return to the ice soon, especially if he expects to prove his worth on the big club. The Chicago Blackhawks continue to bring talented youth to the roster because of a commitment to a strong minor league system. Pirri may be another in a growing line of home-grown players that will make an impact at the Madhouse on Madison.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffrotull44 for more sports and entertainment ramblings. If you play fantasy sports, check out The Fantasy Fix, where Jeff’s weekly column ‘Peaks and Valleys’ covers your add/drop/watch needs during baseball and hockey season.
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