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Pressure’s on Bryan Bickell, the Blackhawks’ $16 million man

Pittsburgh Penguins' Deryk Engellleft Chicago Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell battle as they wait for puck during second period an NHL preseashockey

Pittsburgh Penguins' Deryk Engelland, left, and Chicago Blackhawks' Bryan Bickell battle as they wait for the puck during the second period of an NHL preseason hockey game in Chicago, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: September 26, 2013 3:13PM



It wasn’t the biggest fish Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickell had caught, but as he learned last spring, it’s all about timing. And that 5-pound largemouth bass was just about perfect for Bickell’s boating companion late last month: the Stanley Cup.

‘‘Put a bigger fish in the Cup this year,’’ Bickell said. ‘‘I was happy about that. It was a good day.’’

There have been a lot of good days for Bickell recently. The 27-year-old entered the playoffs last spring as a relatively anonymous third-line left wing. He entered this camp as a playoff hero, the left wing on one of the best lines in hockey and a $16 million man, thanks to his new four-year contract. It would be quite a fish tale if it weren’t true.

‘‘It was an amazing run and something I’ll never forget,’’ Bickell said. ‘‘But now it’s time to look forward to this year.’’

And now it’s time for him to prove the playoffs weren’t a fluke. Time to prove he’s worth that big contract. Time to prove he’s worthy of a spot alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

For years, it was about potential and promise with Bickell. Now, it’s about expectations and demands.

‘‘Bicks played great in the playoffs; he’s one of our key parts of our lineup now,’’ Kane said. ‘‘And I think he’s got to know that going into this season. . . . He’s got to do what he did in the playoffs. That’s what’s expected of him now.’’

Bickell welcomes the challenge. And if he’s feeling the weight of his contract and the expectations placed on his shoulders, he’s not showing it. If anything, he seems excited to get a chance to play a full season on a scoring line for the first time in his career.

He scored 17 goals in his first full season (2010-11) but slipped to nine the next season. He had a respectable nine in the 48-game regular season last year, then blew up for nine goals and eight assists in the playoffs, proving to be a menace in front of the net and clearing space for Toews and Kane to snap out of their personal scoring slumps.

‘‘I need to have that same mind-set I had in the playoffs all year,’’ Bickell said. ‘‘I felt I was focused and really learned what I needed to do to be the player I want to be. I feel if I bring that focus and my best game — or something close to it — every night, I’ll be playing good hockey. I just need to do that.’’

He also needs to do what he does best: crash the net. While he has one of the best, heaviest wrist shots on the team, most of his goals in the playoffs came on the doorstep. He scored the tying goal with 1:16 left in the deci-
sive Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins by planting himself at the top of the crease and jabbing home a perfect pass from Toews.

Based on the two goals he scored Monday in Pittsburgh — batting one puck in out of midair and deflecting another one in — he still has the right idea. And while Bickell, Kane and coach Joel
Quenneville declined to attach a number to the expectations on Bickell, none demurred at the idea that a 30-goal season is the loose target.

‘‘Saw a lot of goals like that [during camp] at Notre Dame, [too], and that’s where Bick’s got to earn his keep,’’ Quenneville said. ’’He’s playing with a couple of guys that should be able to get him the puck, too. We expect Bick’s production to be better than it’s been.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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