Kane to Bickell: You’re not a third-liner anymore

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It’s expected that Bryan Bickell will be linemates with Patrick Kane in Chicago this season.

And hey, speaking of expectations….

“[Bickell is] one of our key parts of our lineup now,” Kane told the Chicago Tribune. “He’s got to know that going into this season and realize he’s not counted on being a third-line player or a checking-line guy.

“He’s got to do what he did in the playoffs. That’s what’s expected from him now.”

Bickell, 27, raised exceptions exponentially over a three-month span earlier this year.

He had a breakthrough playoff performance en route to the Stanley Cup, scoring 17 points in 23¬†games. That included nine goals (two of the game-winning variety) and his emergence as the big-body, net-front presence the club lacked since Dustin Byfuglien during the ’10 Stanley Cup run.

Then came the money.

Bickell, who was making a modest $541,666 per year on his old deal, scored one of the biggest raises of the summer by signing a four-year, $16 million extension. That put him among Chicago’s richest forwards, trailing only Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa in terms of average annual cap hit ($4 million).

Bickell knows all this will mean increased expectations for the season, and he’s willing to accept the challenge.

“There is more pressure on my shoulders, but I feel where I was a couple of years ago my game is getting better every year and my mental game is where it needs to be,” he said. “I feel happy to be back here with the contract I have.

“I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”