Roster breakdown: The top line

Troy Brouwer may fill out the top line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Jamie Sabau/NHLI/Getty Images

Between now and training camp we’ll take a look at the Hawks roster. There are plenty of new faces to go along with the returning stars. Let’s start with the Hawks top line:

Jonathan Toews, Center

Experience: Entering 4th year in the league.

Contract Status: Begins a new five-year deal which pays him $6.5 million in 2010-11.

Jesse’s take: His star has never been brighter. Toews is coming off a year that saw him voted best forward in the Olympics and Conn Smythe winner of the NHL playoffs. That’s a combination that won’t happen very often in the same year, if ever again. There is simply no weakness to his game. His finishing touch, faceoff prowess, and strength with the puck all showed dramatic improvement last season. There is no reason to believe that improvement won’t continue. And now he’ll be paid handsomely for his efforts. He might come cheap considering he also is the captain of the Cup champions. He proved to be a money player in both the Olympics and the Stanley Cup playoffs, producing points at the most important times. Toews has moved himself into the MVP picture for the league, though his point total (68 last year) will need to increase for him to have a chance. Is there any doubt he can’t do that as well?

Patrick Kane, Right Wing

Experience: Entering 4th year in the league.

Contract Status: Begins a new five-year deal which pays him $6.5 million in 2010-11.

Jesse’s take: Where there’s Toews there’s Kane. And make no mistake, without Kane, the Hawks are a pedestrian offense last season. He had 20 more points than the next highest-scoring forward on the team and arguably had a few off nights, especially early on in the season. Kane played faster and surprisingly stronger last year and was rewarded for it as one of five Hawks to play in all 82 games. He knows his role. To score. Or help a teammate to do so. His vision and decision making has improved each year in the league, and last year his newly acquired strength allowed him to hold the puck longer and even to take hits while making plays. Concern over a summer of partying will be answered early in camp, but Hawks brass knows one thing that is indisputable about the 21 year-old: He loves the game. And he loves to be considered one of the best. There’s little doubt one of Kane’s goals for his production this season is 100 points. With the Hawks’ depth a little lighter, which means even more time on the ice for the stars, Kane has a great chance at hitting that number. Like Toews, he’ll play with a new contract and, of course, make the same exact salary as his locker stall neighbor.

Troy Brouwer, Left Wing

Experience: Entering his 3rd full season in NHL.

Contract Status: Begins final year of his contract, paying him $1.05 million. He’ll be a restricted free agent at year’s end.

Jesse’s take: Joel Quenneville hasn’t said it yet, but best guess is the 24-year old winger will have first shot at playing next to Toews and Kane. It’s the most coveted position on the team. Brouwer excelled at times last year and the year before playing with the two young stars. He has bulk and skill, which can make him deceptive. His highlight for the 2009-10 season came in overtime against rival San Jose. He flashed a quick move to the middle of the ice and netted the winner and then admitted afterward he didn’t have a ton of confidence in pulling it off. Confidence has been an issue for the third-year forward. He lost some early in the playoffs after missing time visiting his sick father. He turned a puck over against Nashville and disappeared, first to the fourth line and then to the bench. He returned to the lineup with a bang scoring a goal in the decisive game 6 win against Vancouver and netting two more in the Stanley Cup Finals opener against Philadelphia. If Brouwer believes he can play with the likes of Kane and Toews on a nightly basis, he could be their winger for a long time. There is a good reason he was never mentioned in any trade talk this past offseason. He and his 22 goals last season are one of the few Hawk bargains. That could change next offseason when Brouwer becomes a restricted free agent.