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Player Evaluation: Bryan Bickell

  By Tony DeFrancesco

If there's anything we've learned about Bryan Bickell's professional hockey career it's that he doesn't have a bone of consistency in his body. At times he displays his sniper abilities with his laser accurate shot and quick release, but other times he struggles to make the right decisions to utilize his tool set and lacks enough speed to be considered a complete power forward. He is a big specimen at 6' 4" and 233 pounds, but he isn't exactly a physically imposing threat every game. However, his size combined with his defensive awareness and grinder ability along the boards does allow Bickell to do well in a checking line role.

This season Bickell's contract expires and he is set to become a UFA for the first time in his career. Despite that fact, there's no reason to believe that Bryan is poised to have a career year. The wing slots are beginning to look crowded these days with Sharp, Kane, Hossa, Stalberg, Shaw, Saad, Hayes, Frolik, Mayers, Carcillo, and Bollig prepared to line-up at any moment and Bickell could struggle to see ice time in the line-up at all if he begins to slip up, let alone enough looks in an offensive role.

Last season Bickell had a down year offensively and defensively compared to his 2010-2011 campaign. His totals in every category dropped significantly, not only his offensive contributions but also the crucial areas of the game such as hitting to giveaway/takeaway ratio. As a result his ice-time dropped by just over a minute and a half, even causing Quenneville to break up his checking line at some points in the season. This year won't get any better for him unless he fulfills the potential that the Blackhawks intended all along and expected after his first full season -- you know, that potential that made Troy Brouwer expendable.

It's not all doom and gloom for Bickell. He's a good character guy, very well liked, and he will get solid chance this season to stay in the line-up, but it's harder to play when you are looking behind your back and watching your Twitter buddies (Jimmy Hayes, Andrew Shaw) quickly vaulting ahead on the depth chart and poised to take your slot. Don't get me wrong either, I think Bickell is a good NHL player and he certainly has a place on this team as it stands, but if history repeats itself it's pretty clear that the Blackhawks organization categorizes these types of players as "replaceable" rather than the type of player that they want to keep. The question on my mind is: Do the Blackhawks think Jimmy Hayes makes Bickell expendable?

At this point, I would find it hard to believe that Bickell would consistently find himself in the line-up by the end of this year, much like the way his career has unfolded perhaps this is the year that Joel Quenneville decides that it's time to use him inconsistently.

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