Blackhawks’ Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou need to learn Patrick Kane’s preferences quickly

Patrick Kane’s offensive star power comes more from facilitating than from shooting.

But Kane’s new linemates, Blackhawks summer signings Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou, seemingly haven’t figured that out yet. By the time the regular season starts next week, the Hawks desperately need them to.

That line has struggled to create anything during their first two preseason games together, primarily because Domi and Athanasiou have constantly deferred to Kane. Their disconnect was obvious Sunday against the Wild as the trio squandered opportunity after opportunity.

“We are getting chances, for sure,” Domi said Sunday. “We’re just not finishing, obviously. Some of that comes down to bearing down and executing and wanting it. It is preseason, but there’s some stuff that we could have been a lot better at tonight, and we know that.”

The most glaring example came during a three-on-one break in the second period. Domi started with the puck but passed to Kane on right wing before the group even reached the red line.

Kane later fed Athanasiou in the high slot, giving him a prime shooting angle, but Athanasiou forced a pass back to Kane that was broken up by the Wild defenseman, ruining the play. Athanasiou realized immediately he made the wrong decision, coach Luke Richardson said, and smashed his stick in frustration upon returning to the bench.

Several similar instances occurred Wednesday against the Blues in the Hawks’ preseason opener. It’s frustrating because the combination makes sense on paper and should theoretically be dangerous, at least by this Hawks team’s standards.

Athanasiou’s skating ability is one of the most impressive singular skills possessed by any forward on the current roster. He can blow past virtually any defenseman on the rush. Richardson noted his skating is also literally quiet –he can’t “hear the ice and the steel” from Athanasiou like he can with other blazers –which makes him exponentially more elusive.

Domi, meanwhile, has some similarities to Kane — albeit not at quite the same level –in terms of his offensive awareness, vision and soft hands. He and Kane are both London Knights alumni and actually once sat together during the US Open in New York. Kane recounted that story at the start of training camp while expressing genuine excitement about the opportunity to play with Domi.

So what would improve things? Simply spending more time together will presumably help build chemistry. So will a stronger shoot-first mentality from all three, but particularly from Athanasiou.

Domi has always been a pass-first player: his shot share (the percentage of team shot attempts during his ice time that he takes himself) over the last three seasons is just 22.0%, and it was 16.3% last season with the Hurricanes. Athanasiou’s shot share over the last three seasons, conversely, is a sizable 27.2%.

Kane will ultimately get his looks –his shot share is 27.7% over those three years –but they’ll often come about organically rather than by design. That’s something Alex DeBrincat learned quickly, and it made them deadly partners-in-crime. DeBrincat statistically took fewer shots than Kane did during their ice time together, but it felt like he took more, and that gave defenses fits.

Domi and Athanasiou need to learn all of that as soon as possible. Richardson, for one, is already talking to them about it.

“[Kane is] going to draw attention, and that’s going to open up other people, and you have to recognize that and pull the trigger — that’s your chance,” Richardson said. “That’s an assist for Patrick right there, whether he touches the puck or not.

“Then [the ice is] going to open up, and people are going to have to honor [Domi and Athanasiou] because they are good players with good speed. … There’s just a growing process with that, as I’m sure there always is over the years.”

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