Bickell steps up offensively for Hawks

CHICAGO -- If Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell had his choice between hitting or scoring, he would always opt to nail an opponent against the boards.

Bickell can’t help that. That’s just who he is.

“You know I’m a big guy,” the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Bickell said recently. “I like to bang and have some fun on the boards and get the fans into it, which gets me into the game, too.”

The thing is, as much as Bickell prefers knocking people around, his offensive game has stepped to the forefront in the past week and a half. In Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, Bickell got the fans pumped by scoring two goals in a regular-season game for the first time in his career.

Tuesday’s offensive output was just the latest in a string for Bickell. Bickell has three goals and two assists in six games. For the season, he has five goals and seven assists.

Although it’s not his preferred way to contribute, Bickell prides himself on being a team player.

“I’m going to do whatever the team wants me to do,” Bickell said. “If they want me to block shots on the PK or whatever or stand in front on the power play, I’m going to do it. I know there’s different years you might change your game to fit the team, but I’m just here for them to tell me what to do and just do it.”

What Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville would like Bickell to do is a bit of everything like he has been most of the season. Quenneville said he has witnessed Bickell develop into a more all-around player this season.

“I think [Bickell] had stretches here as a player where he seems to be effective in all aspects,” Quenneville said recently. “Where he’s physical; defensively, he’s more responsible than he’s been. Offensively, he’s got a great shot. He’s got some strength in the puck area.

“Bickell has definitely improved. He’s really stepped up.”

Bickell has flourished offensively in recent games in a variety of ways on the third line. He’s shown off his vision and passing ability -- like when he set up Andrew Shaw around the net for a goal in last week’s win over the St. Louis Blues. He’s also displayed his surging wrist shot -- like when he scored recently on a breakaway against the Columbus Blue Jackets and again on Tuesday.

“I’ve been passing more than I’ve been shooting,” Bickell said after Tuesday’s win. “I think my strength is my shot, but give it to [Shaw] and [Viktor] Stalberg. They’ve been playing great. I just found two [goals] tonight.”

As for that shot, Bickell credits his discipline to staying away from a vice most children have growing up.

“When I was kid, I didn’t play video games or anything,” Bickell said. “I just worked on my shot. That’s what my dad wanted me to do. You know what? It paid off, and I’m happy to have it.”

Shaw knows his line mate would prefer to hit people, but he believes one area of Bickell’s game could lead to the other.

“If he keeps hitting, those offensive chances will come,” Shaw said. “He’s just creating more chances out there. He’s getting more confident with the puck. He’s making those great passes, taking the puck to the net, and he’s got a heck of a shot. It’s been working for him.”

Bickell even found a way to combine his offensive success with his love of hitting. After Bickell scored his second goal on Tuesday, he skated to the left corner, jumped and crashed his body up against the glass. He and the fans were into it.