All Eyes On Brandon Pirri
Can Brandon Pirri make the jump from being the AHL's leading scorer to the Blackhawks second line center?
It is very apparent that Stan Bowman wants to give some his young talent from Rockford a chance to stick with the big club in Chicago this year. The departures of Dave Bolland, Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik, Daniel Carcillo and Jamal Mayers have left plenty of room on the Blackhawks' roster to be filled by their up and coming talent. One of Hawks' hopeful future stars that will get a lot of attention when training camp starts is Brandon Pirri. I have to believe Pirri will be given every chance to win the second line center spot, but only time will tell if Joel Quenneville allows him the time to assert himself.
The second line center position on the Blackhawks has been a harder position to fill than third base for the Cubs after trading Ron Santo to the White Sox. Many players have tried to grab the spot like Patrick Sharp, Michal Handzus, Andrew Brunette, Brendan Morrison and even Patrick Kane but here we are with still no real number two center. It looks like it will be Pirri's job to lose in training camp, despite the talk that Brandon Saad may get a look at center.
What do the Blackhawks have in their 22 year old prospect? Pirri is coming off a 75 point season for the Rockford IceHogs, an AHL career high. His 22 goals were one shy of tying his career high and his 53 assists were by far the best he has put up while in Rock Vegas. His 75 points was good enough to beat out the great Jeff Taffe, by 4 points, for the AHL scoring title. The Hawks like to include that Pirri was the AHL's leading scorer in their press clippings but it's not that great of an honor. He is added to the list of recent scoring title winners that includes Chris Bourque, Corey Locke, Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Giroux and Jason Krog. That list doesn't exactly inspire you to think of NHL greatness. Leading the AHL in scoring for the season means you were never good enough to get called up to the NHL. Pirri's circumstances were a bit different considering how deep the Blackhawks were and how healthy stayed during the lockout shortened season of 2013.
Scouts have touted Pirri for his skating skills and his stick handling ability. He has the ability to both set up his line mates and finish off scoring plays on his own. He still needs to bulk up a bit to handle the nightly pounding he will get in the NHL. At only 22 he still has some time to fill out. He has made improvements to his defensive game, which will go a long way in his staying power with the Hawks. Coach Q showed a lot of patience with Saad last season, mainly because even though he wasn't scoring, he was playing a solid all around game. If Pirri can win draws and play a responsible defensive game Q will wait for the scoring to come if he struggles to hit the scoring sheet early in the season.
Pirri has just two assists in his seven career games with the Blackhawks. If he is given a fair chance to play every night with the likes of Sharp, Kane, Saad, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell he should get plenty of opportunities for points. Pirri will be one of the most interesting stories to follow going into to training camp. I am sure that all Hawks fans are hoping for a repeat of Saad's rookie campaign but let's wait and see. It's not like the Blackhawks can't win a Stanley Cup without a true second line center, but it would be a nice luxury to have.