THE LINE KINGS

Ny­lan­der-Strome-Kane trio has been dom­i­nant in scrim­mages, which bodes well for up­com­ing se­ries against Oil­ers

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - bpope@sun­times.com BEN POPE | @BenPopeCST

The Black­hawks’ of­fi­cial “sec­ond” line of Dy­lan Strome cen­ter­ing Pa­trick Kane and Alex Ny­lan­der has been hot­ter than the weather out­side since train­ing camp started last week.

In the three in­trasquad scrim­mages, that line has seven of the team’s 12 goals. Strome scored twice in Team Black’s 3-0 win last Wed­nes­day, then again in the 1-1 tie Satur­day, and Kane and Ny­lan­der each scored twice in Team Black’s 5-2 win Sun­day.

Even in other drills, all three have been no­tice­ably quick and ac­cu­rate.

“That line’s looked re­ally good so far,” coach Jeremy Col­li­ton said Sun­day. “They’ve been ac­tive, skat­ing well, show­ing a lot of chem­istry, and they’ve been scor­ing, so hope­fully that con­tin­ues.”

“We all bring a dif­fer­ent el­e­ment to the game,” Strome said Mon­day. “[Ny­lan­der has] great speed and a great shot, and he can make plays. And then, ob­vi­ously, Kane does his thing with the puck and makes plays all over the ice, so it blends well to­gether. I just try to get open.”

It makes sense that Col­li­ton im­me­di­ately turned to Ny­lan­der-Strome-Kane when sketch­ing out lines at the start of camp, and even more sense that he has stuck with them.

That line spent five games to­gether in the mid­dle of the reg­u­lar sea­son, then re­united for the last seven games be­fore the March 12 sea­son stop­page. Over­all, in 110 min­utes to­gether, the line outscored op­po­nents 10-5 and gen­er­ated a 53.0% scor­ing-chance ra­tio. When not along­side the other two, Ny­lan­der, Strome and Kane had scor­ing-chance ra­tios be­low 48.3%.

Their suc­cess was driven not only be­cause of Kane’s pres­ence but also be­cause of their well-matched skills.

Kane, while deadly of­fen­sively, is most ef­fec­tive when he has team­mates who can get him the puck and max­i­mize the Hawks’ pos­ses­sion rate. Strome and Ny­lan­der do ex­actly that. They ranked sec­ond and fourth, re­spec­tively, on the team in as­sists per minute, and Strome ranked third on the team in high-dan­ger passes per minute (ac­cord­ing to an­a­lyst Corey Sz­na­jder).

Plus, Col­li­ton has worked with Ny­lan­der to help him im­prove his re­trieval skills.

“[We’ve em­pha­sized] his work ethic away from the puck and get­ting to full speed away from the puck, to put pres­sure on [op­po­nents] and cause turnovers and to give de­fen­sive sup­port,” Col­li­ton said. “Es­pe­cially when you’re play­ing with Kane, we need to have the puck.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Strome ad­mit­ted Mon­day that he wasn’t even at full strength dur­ing the line’s ini­tial tor­rid streak in late Fe­bru­ary and early March.

The an­kle in­jury that caused him to miss most of the Hawks’ Jan­uary sched­ule still hurt when the sea­son stopped, Strome said. But the ex­tra three months off that the pan­demic pro­vided, dur­ing which he con­sciously pri­or­i­tized an­kle-friendly ex­er­cises — such as rid­ing the bike in­stead of run­ning — helped fully heal it.

“I feel great,” he said. “Our line’s been click­ing re­ally well, and I feel con­fi­dent with the puck, and I feel like my skat­ing’s got­ten bet­ter.”

So now Strome is healthy, Ny­lan­der has com­pleted a full year of learn­ing un­der the Hawks’ coach­ing staff and Kane is, well, still Kane.

That should make for a truly dan­ger­ous trio as the Hawks think ahead to the se­ries against the Oil­ers.

Kane, with his three Stan­ley Cup rings, will have to pre­pare Strome and Ny­lan­der for the post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence. Both young­sters will be mak­ing their NHL play­off de­buts. He talked about that, with re­gard to Ny­lan­der, on Fri­day.

“As camp goes on . . . we’ll talk more about cer­tain de­tails that we want to do when we’re on the ice to­gether,” Kane said. “But [I’m] leav­ing him alone right now be­cause he looks great. He’s skat­ing well, his puck con­trol is re­ally good and he’s cre­at­ing a lot in any bat­tle drill or scrim­mage so far. I think he and Strome have looked re­ally good so far in camp.”

JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IMAGES (KANE, STROME), KAMIL KRZACZYNSK­I/AP (NY­LAN­DER)

Pa­trick Kane (left) will have to pre­pare Dy­lan Strome (above, left) and Alex Ny­lan­der (above, right) for the de­mands of play­off hockey.

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