Our Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
In the 2017-18 NHL season, we saw what might be the beginning of the end for the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty. After 9 straight seasons in the playoffs and 3 Stanley Cup Championships, the Blackhawks are have now missed the playoffs in 2 consecutive seasons and have parted ways with longtime head coach Joel Quenneville.
It is no secret that the core of the team is aging, and it is especially apparent on defense. Every year we wonder if Duncan Keith will be able to keep up his workhorse playstyle that routinely sees him at the top of, if not leading, the league in TOI. He is showing few signs of slowing down yet, but he is not getting any younger. Brent Seabrook has definitely lost many steps in his game and is no longer at the level he once was, but remains an incredibly valuable member of the team and in the locker room.
But, time for a counter point. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both set career highs in points last season. Alex DeBrincat hit the 40-goal mark. Dylan Strome had a 50-point year. A couple of younger defensemen, led by Erik Gustafsson, have earned spots on the NHL roster. And, the down years have given the team a chance to begin restocking their prospect pool.
So, even though the results in the standings are not great, the Blackhawks definitely have the pieces in place to remain in competition for a playoff spot in and beyond the coming season.
As is the case with many teams in the midst of successful streaks, the draft record takes a bit of a beating. The Blackhawks are no exception. In order to fit their roster within the cap, sustain their success in the present, and let them acquire pieces to fill specific holes and put them over the top, the Blackhawks have lost a lot of their young talent over the past decade. Very few of the team’s draft picks since 2012 have made an impact in the NHL and remain with the Blackhawks organization to this date. Most have been traded, save for Alex DeBrincat. Others, including Carl Dahlstrom and Dylan Sikura, have just made the NHL this season and it remains unknown whether or not they will remain with the team in 2019-20, though questionable depth means a good chance for them to do so.
A couple of down years means one thing: higher draft picks. The Blackhawks have been able to get a few high-level prospects in the past couple drafts, one of them by sheer luck. Placing third in the 2019 Draft Lottery led to the team selecting Kirby Dach to add to the selection of offensive-defenseman dynamo Adam Boqvist the year prior. An influx of high level talent to add to an experienced core will give the team an energy boost that will help them improve and sustain higher level performance for a couple more seasons. The strong core full of intangibles can help elevate some prospects to levels they may not reach with other organizations.
Although the team got off to a rough start under new head coach Jeremy Colliton, the team turned it around and finished the season with a 26-15-6 record (which prorates to about 101 points over a full season, definitely in a playoff spot). With a full season and the chance to work with the team through a training camp and preseason, Colliton should be able to better implement his system and better utilize his assets on the team.
Some of the acquisitions and moves of players over the past few years have been questionable and even damaging to the future success of the team but after an overall good season and offseason (save for the Henri Jokiharju trade, on first impressions), the GM seems to have settled down a little bit and is making better moves that will help the team.
Calvin de Haan
The Blackhawks centre depth, and whole team, are still led by captain Jonathan Toews. He will continue to be the centerpiece around which the team is constructed. Though he is entering his 30’s and may begin to slow down soon, coming off a career season in terms of offensive production will hopefully provide some momentum and drive to maintain the offensive threat.
Dylan Strome, after being acquired from the Coyotes, exploded and had himself 51 points in 58 games. This far exceeded his production in Arizona and gives him a clear spot in the lineup, slotting in behind Toews. Whether or not Strome’s line or Toews’ line will be seen as the first is still unclear, though.
Bottom 6 centres will likely be a constantly rotating cast. Zack Smith will hold one of the spots due to his excellence as a defensive, gritty centre with a respectable faceoff winning percentage. He will also be looked to for leadership, as he was a valued presence in the Ottawa Senators’ locker room throughout his career.
David Kampf and Ryan Carpenter are the top candidates to hold the last centre spot on the roster.
The team’s top prospect at the centre position is Kirby Dach. He still has some development to do, however, and is a bit of a longshot to make the team out of training camp this season. If he impresses, he could get a nine-game tryout as the team’s third line centre, or possibly as a winger on a more offensive line.
On the wings, the Blackhawks have a handful of prospects very close to making the jump to the NHL this coming season.
The top 2 lines’ wingers will be some combination of Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, and Brendan Perlini. Kane and DeBrincat are the team’s best offensive players and will be relied on heavily for driving the offense of this year’s team. They will hopefully join Strome to continue their success from last season.
Perlini has never really found his stride in the NHL after being drafted 12th overall back in 2014. He was acquired by the team in the Dylan Strome trade but had just 15 points in 46 games in Chicago. He needs to improve on that or else he will find himself quickly replaced, potentially by a prospect looking to earn a spot in the NHL.
The Blackhawks’ bottom 6 winger spots will be filled with more gritty, high-energy players and some prospects thrown in when needed. Andrew Shaw will lead this group. Recently reacquired from the Montreal Canadiens, Shaw is coming off of a career high in assists (28) and points (47) last season. He may get a fair shot in the top 6 on the wing when things need a quick change-up. Drake Caggiula has been an acceptable bottom line winger since coming over from Edmonton last season. Though small, he manages to bring a dominating physical presence with the occasional offensive boost to the lineup, perfect for the role he plays in. One of Kampf or Carpenter, along with John Quenneville, will be competing for spots, likely on the fourth line.
The main competition for prospects to fill out the lineup will be between Alexander Nylander, Dylan Sikura, and Dominik Kubalik. Kubalik and Nylander are projected to be with the team for most of the season, and Sikura can expect to be a frequent call-up or fill-in to get a chance at breaking into the lineup. As mentioned previously, Kirby Dach may also find himself in this competition at the beginning of the season.
Although the trading of Henri Jokiharju is a confusing move, the Blackhawks are still set up fairly well on defense. The top pairing will most likely be Duncan Keith and Erik Gustafsson, a Swedish defender who had a breakout season by posting 60 points in 79 games. Although he has taken a while to become an NHL regular, production like that from the back end has given the Blackhawks an incredibly valuable asset moving forward. It may be difficult to sign him after the upcoming season, however, as he could very well be due for a significant raise.
It is probable that Brent Seabrook begins to fall farther down the lineup as the year moves on and other defensemen step up, but until that time he will be a valued veteran presence on the ice. His speed and defensive abilities will be subject to constant questions this season as he may end up exposed big time by the speedy competition in the Central division.
Competing for spots with him are Carl Dahlstrom, Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy, and Calvin De Haan. Dahlstrom, Maatta, and De Haan are the top candidates for second pairing defenders. The remaining one from that group will be looking at the third pairing with Seabrook. Connor Murphy has been of questionable reliability since coming to Chicago a couple seasons ago. Touted as a big, physical, defensive defenseman, he is still struggling to find his defensive game at the NHL level. Defenders do typically develop slower, but with the team not having the defensive strength they once had (in the decline of Seabrook’s play and loss of Niklas Hjalmarsson), Murphy needs to step up and bring a steady presence to the back end.
Rookie Adam Boqvist adjusted very quickly to playing in North America and dominated the OHL as a member of the London Knights last season. There is a very real chance that he makes a strong push for an NHL roster spot this coming season, though an extra year of development will definitely not hurt him.
The Blackhawks have a bit of a confusing situation in net, at the moment. Longtime starter Corey Crawford sustained another concussion last season and talks began of whether or not he would be able to return (or if he should and wants to, for the sake of his long-term health). He did return by the end of the season and all seemed well and good. This offseason, however, the Blackhawks made a splash by signing Robin Lehner. Lehner was coming off of a career season in which he earned a Vezina nomination for his performance with the Islanders. It seems a bit of an odd move to sign a Vezina calibre goalie as a backup, doesn’t it? Indicating that Corey Crawford may be receiving a reduced role next season, or at the very least a 1A/1B situation with Lehner playing about 50 games and Crawford the remainder. Regardless, the Blackhawks have two competent and experienced goalies who have shown strong abilities in the crease.
Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 Prediction
4th-6th Central Division
Unfortunately for Chicago, the Central Division is still a highly competitive playing field. Although their points pace over the last half of the season would put them in first place in the division over the whole of last season, the team right now just does not have the proven forward depth to compete against teams like Nashville, Winnipeg, and the quickly improving Colorado Avalanche. It would not be surprising to see them close to, if not in, a wildcard playoff spot if players like Toews, Kane, DeBrincat, Gustafsson, and Lehner can maintain their play from last season, but they will be in for a tough journey to move up in the division right now.