CHICAGO -- The NHL’s best offensive team may be a bit more offensive in the near future.
The return of forward Bryan Bickell appears to be just around the corner for the Chicago Blackhawks. Bickell practiced Friday for the first time since suffering a knee injury on Nov. 19. His 6-foot-4, 233-pound frame and scoring ability could enhance an offense which is already averaging a league-best 3.68 goals per game.
Bickell was close to being on pace to score 20 goals this season when he was injured. He had five goals in 22 games. He’s coming off a season where he showed his upside by having nine goals and eight assists in 23 playoff games.
“He’s got some speed,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. “He’s got some physicality to his game. He’s got a nice set of hands. He’s got a big shot, net-front presence. I just think you appreciate him not making us a bigger team, but bringing more physicality to our team.”
Quenneville will have some more line options with Bickell back in the mix. The top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa is expected to remain the same. Patrick Kane and Michal Handzus will likely stay on the second line, and Andrew Shaw will probably remain centering the third line. But Quenneville will be able to mix and match Bickell, Kris Versteeg and Brandon Saad.
Quenneville hinted Bickell would remain on the left wing on the second or third line, and Versteeg and Saad would fill the right wing and left wing in the other openings. Versteeg has lately been playing left wing on the second line, and Saad has been on the left wing on the third line.
Bickell could return to the lineup as early as Dec. 20 against the Vancouver Canucks.
“I feel great,” Bickell said. “First practice with the team in a while, it feels good. I feel like I’m getting stronger and better every day. I don’t know exactly a timetable when I’ll be back. But watching these guys on TV lately has been fun. Hopefully they can keep it up, and when I do get healthy hopefully I can help.”
Goaltender updates: Quenneville said goaltender Corey Crawford was “progressing well” and could be back on the ice this weekend or early next week.
Crawford suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday against the Florida Panthers. Quenneville said he still expected Crawford to return in 2-3 weeks.
Quenneville also said goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin has not skated since suffering a lower-body injury on Nov. 16.
Simpson's opportunity: Quenneville was unsure whether rookie backup goaltender Kent Simpson would start in any of the upcoming games. Quenneville said there was possibly a chance for Simpson to start with the Blackhawks having three games in four nights.
Coaching list: Quenneville can move into a tie for fourth place on the NHL’s list of career regular-season coaching wins on Saturday. He has 683 wins and is one short of Pat Quinn.
Scotty Bowman is first with 1,244 wins and is followed by Al Arbour’s 782 wins and Dick Irvin’s 692 wins.
“I don’t think too much about it,” Quenneville said. “I know there are a lot of coaches in our league right now who have coached a lot of games as well. You look at the people ahead. You look at Scotty and his accomplishments over the years -- pretty remarkable. I’m just happy to be coaching.”