With 2019 training camp underway, there are a lot of fresh faces ready to help the Chicago Blackhawks attempt to make their triumphant return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While there was a lot of movement this offseason to acquire some more grit and toughness, there were also some moves made mid-way through the 2018-19 season that brought some high-upside talent to the Madhouse on Madison. Last season saw players like Alex DeBrincat and Erik Gustafsson make a name for themselves and become a steady part of the Blackhawks roster. Here are five players who are poised to become household names and fan-favorites in 2019-20.
Calvin de Haan
Here’s a fun fact about Calvin De Haan. While playing for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he was a teammate of new(ish) head coach Jeremy Colliton. Drafted 12th overall by the New York Islanders in 2009, de Haan is going to plug in as a top-four defenseman once he returns from a shoulder injury, which sounds like it may happen sooner than later. Most importantly, he is going to bring a steadying defensive presence to the ice that has been missing since the trade of Niklas Hjalmarsson and the slow declines of the aging Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
In his seven seasons in the league, de Haan has blocked 793 shots and doled out 755 hits. He’s not going to bring a lot of flash to the offensive side of the puck, but that’s okay when he’s playing a supporting role for guys like Patrick Kane, DeBrincat, and Jonathan Toews, to name a few. It has been rough watching the Blackhawks defense these last few seasons and a player like de Haan is going to be a lot of fun as he helps to bring stability to the blue line.
Kubalik has all of the tools to excel in this Blackhawks offense. While he has never played a game in the NHL, he had an impressive 2018-19 in which he had a very productive showing in the IIHF Men’s World Championships, scoring 12 points with a plus-10 rating in 10 games. Adding to the accolades, he also led Swiss National League in scoring and was named the NLA MVP with 57 points and a plus-5 rating in 50 games. You never know how that is going to translate to the NHL, and he is likely to start as a bottom-six forward, but he brings a very well-rounded game to Chicago and is ready to provide some dangerous scoring depth to an already potent offense.
It’s difficult to call a 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist a breakout candidate, but this is a guy Blackhawks fans are likely going to fall in love with pretty quickly. He’s as easy to like off the ice as he is on it and the 28-year-old netminder carried a 25-13 record with the Islanders featuring a .930 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average. Not to take anything away from Corey Crawford, who has been a great goalie for the Blackhawks, but his injury concerns carried a lot of weight into the decision to offer Lehner a contract this offseason.
Best-case scenario? Crawford remains healthy and splits time with Lehner, giving the Blackhawks two All-Star caliber goalies who have the ability to stonewall the opposition on any given night. Worst-case scenario? Crawford gets bit by the injury bug yet again and Lehner steps in to become the primary goalie for the Blackhawks. While it’s not the ideal situation to lose a Stanley Cup winner and fan favorite in Crawford, Lehner has the ability to stand on his head night in and night out, which still sounds like a pretty great scenario.
Saarela is the one player on this list who has the biggest uphill battle to make the roster, but if he does, there’s one thing we know for sure about him – the kid can score. He was acquired alongside de Haan, but his ability to score would suggest that he was much more than just a throw-in. In just over two seasons in the AHL, he has scored 107 points including 61 goals. Last season, he led the Calder Cup-winning Charlotte Checkers offense with 54 points in 69 games. While there will be a lot of great competition in training camp to make the NHL roster, he is a guy whose ability to find the net could set him apart from the rest of the pack and bring a lot of production to the bottom-six, or as the man to Toews’ left. If he doesn’t make the main roster out of camp, he will definitely be someone to keep an eye on should the Blackhawks ever need to call up an impact scorer.
Strome was the Arizona Coyotes’ third-overall pick in 2015, but his first two seasons with the Coyotes left a lot to be desired. Fast forward to 2018-19 where he got off to a very slow start in Arizona, scoring just six points in 20 games with a minus-10 rating, much to the chagrin of Coyotes fans. This is where it all changed for the young center. He was reunited with his old teammate, DeBrincat, and quickly seemed to get comfortable and find his stride in the red and black.
It’s hard to predict a near point-per-game player, 51 points in 58 games, as a breakout candidate, but a full offseason with the Blackhawks can only mean good things for the high IQ center as he continues to become more comfortable and develop chemistry with his teammates.
Adam got his start in sports journalism and sports broadcasting at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where he was fortunate enough to cover several national championship teams. He was also the Color Commentator and pre/post-game interviewer for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ ECHL affiliate, the Chicago Express, in their one year of existence.
Adam fell in love with hockey at a young age and grew up a Chicago Blackhawks fan despite them not being on television at the time.