No reason for Blackhawks to force Trevor van Riemsdyk into lineup
While Trevor van Riemsdyk might be ready to return, the Blackhawks may be better served to wait it out and let him start fresh in 2015-16.
One of the primary narratives throughout the playoffs, as narratives relate to the Chicago Blackhawks, has been their blue line depth, or lack thereof. A defensive corps that has been a concern throughout the season has leaned heavily on its top four in the group, with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya all logging heavy minutes. That's only been made worse by the injury to Michal Rozsival.
In the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks, we saw what was likely the end of Kimmo Timonen in a Blackhawks uniform. While he may still have a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup by the time this series against the Tampa Bay Lightning is done, it'll likely be coming out of the locker room after the game, rather than off the bench. Instead, the Hawks have rolled with the likes of David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey as their bottom two defensemen, cycling them in and out in extremely limited time.
And so far it's worked. Rundblad is known for being poor in his own zone and Cumiskey is likely better served as AHL depth, but neither one has been particularly noticeable in this last stretch in which they've both been in the lineup. That fact alone is actually a positive one, as in general the times when depth defensemen are noticeable on the ice, it's for the worse. It obviously helps that their ice time has been limited, with Cumiskey logging almost exactly five minutes in Game 1 against the Bolts and Rundblad going for 7:22.
Then there's the Trevor van Riemsdyk factor. Had he played out a full season, it's probably not even a question that he'd be in the lineup at this point. A bit of a wild card coming into the season, he showed plenty of promise in the 18 games that he was limited to, with his confidence increasing seemingly with every shift. However, injuries greatly hindered him in 2014-15, the most significant of which was the left patella fracture back in November.
When healthy, we've only seen van Riemsdyk scratch the surface in the 18 games in his NHL career. He has nice upside as an offensive defenseman and he's very intelligent on the blue line, which benefits him in his own zone. Again, had this been a case where he'd been healthy throughout the regular season, then there isn't any question that we'd see him in the lineup at this point.
But there isn't any reason for Joel Quenneville to force him into the lineup now. With the 23-year-old healthy, there's been plenty of rumbling that Q could try and get him in there at some point in the series. But at this point, there isn't any reason to do so. Cumiskey finished at a CF% of 75, while Rundblad went for a 67. The Hawks have reached this point by leaning heavily on their top four defenseman, and there isn't any reason to believe that philosophy will change now.
This same mentality could, of course, be applied to TvR. That if his minutes are limited, his upside is there and he could contribute more than a Rundblad or a Cumiskey. At the same time, it's important to acknowledge how much of a detriment it could be to his development, especially from a mental perspective, if he were to come in and take time to shake off the rust and end up hindering the Blackhawks against the Lightning more than helping them.
Just as he was coming into the season, any appearance by Trevor van Riemsdyk represents a wild card scenario for the Blackhawks. We don't know what we'd get. Long-term, sure, he's going to be an asset on the blue line. But in a short series, with such a long layover between appearances, the rust factor is a concern. Continue rolling with what got you here. Lean on your top four guys to get through the series. Get TvR in fresh to start the 2015-16 season.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.