CHICAGO -- Returning nearly everyone from last season's Stanley Cup team, the Chicago Blackhawks have the luxury of some certainty heading into next season.
They know what they can expect from everyone from Jonathan Toews to Sheldon Brookbank. They have an understanding of which line mixtures have been known to produce goals and which defensive pairings have often thwarted goals.
But one of the few unknowns for the Blackhawks heading into next season is center Brandon Pirri.
Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Pirri are the names most often tossed around this offseason to replace the spots left by Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. The Blackhawks seem to have a good idea what they have in Hayes, Morin and Smith. All three have played at least 15 NHL games. Pirri has gotten less of a look in the NHL and has played just seven games over the last three seasons for the Blackhawks.
Training camp and preseason games will reveal a lot more about Pirri and his potential next season, but here are some things we do know about him at his point:
Pirr turned 22 years old in April. Only Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad are younger on the current roster. A Toronto native, Pirri was selected by the Blackhawks in the second round at No. 59 overall in the 2009 draft.
"He might be one of the most skilled guys on our list," former Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon told the Chicago Tribune after drafting Pirri in 2009. "He's a guy who can light it up."
Pirri, who shoots lefty, is offensively skilled and can especially distribute the puck. He led the AHL last season with 75 points and 53 assists. Over the final nine games of the Rockford IceHogs' season, he produced 19 points, including 16 assists. Back in the Greater Toronto Hockey League during the 2006-2007 season, he had 128 points in 44 games. He had 94 points in 44 games in the Ontario Junior Hockey League in the 2008-2009 season. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman once described Pirri as having a deceptively hard shot.
His defensive game has been a work in progress. The Blackhawks always believed Pirri had the offensive ability to compete in the NHL, but he needed to become more of an overall player.
"One of the things we really worked on in Rockford the last three years is his defensive responsibilities in his own end and when he doesn't have the puck, just trying to make him into a well-rounded two-way player," IceHogs coach Ted Dent said at the Blackhawks convention.
Pirri played just one season of college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before deciding to turn pro. He joined the IceHogs at 19 and had 43 points in 70 games in his first season. He's been given some time in the NHL over the past three seasons -- which included five games in the 2011-12 season -- but he's been kept in AHL mostly and has been working to add on weight and muscle. He's put on about 20 pounds over the past few seasons and now stands 6-foot and weighs 183 pounds.
"He went to the University of RPI for just one season and decided to turn pro, so when he came to us in Rockford, he was just a 19-year-old kid, and he has really developed over the last few years," Blackhawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver said at the convention. "Physically, he's put on some weight. We needed him to get stronger. He's done that and his game has evolved. When he first got there, he was a very offensive player and we needed to round out his game. And I think the coaching staff [at Rockford] has done a real nice job the last couple seasons in terms of rounding his game and [making him] more of a two-way center.
"He's still certainly a very offensive player with terrific offensive skills, and we're hoping he has a real strong summer and he comes to training camp and really pushes for a job in the fall."