It’s finally here!
The Chicago Blackhawks start their preseason this Monday, Sept. 16 against the Washington Capitals. After that, their schedule includes five more contests before they wrap things up in Berlin, Germany on Sept. 29. These are seven matchups that don’t officially mean anything in the larger picture of the 2019-20 regular season. But ultimately, big decisions will be made over the next two weeks that will set the stage for the team moving forward. Here are five things to watch this preseason.
1. Will Boqvist Play in Chicago or Rockford?
The eighth-overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft is making some waves. After a very successful 2018-19 season with the OHL’s London Knights, defenseman Adam Boqvist also impressed at Blackhawks’ development camp in July. He followed that up with a mostly positive performance at the Traverse City prospects tournament in September.
But while Boqvist has incredible offensive upside, he still needs some work on the defensive end. Scott Powers of the Athletic said of the 19-year-old, “…he showed again in Traverse City his defense, especially his awareness, still needs work.” (from ‘Powers: From Adam Boqvist to Dylan McLaughlin, here is what I saw from the Blackhawks’ rookie tournament team’, The AthleticCHI – 9/11/2019)
After the first day of training camp last Friday, Blackhawks’ general manager Stan Bowman said Boqvist was ready to turn pro.
Stan Bowman on Adam Boqvist: "He's ready to be a pro… He's a player we're going to want access to whether he's in Chicago or nearby in Rockford." #Blackhawks— Eric Lear (@BHTVeric) September 13, 2019
The question remains whether Boqvist will end up in Chicago or Rockford. I personally think he should start the season with the IceHogs, where he can fine-tune his defensive skills. But as Bowman indicated, they want to have access to him. He could play in up to nine NHL games without it counting against the first year of his entry-level contract.
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Along with Boqvist, keep an eye on blueliners Slater Koekkoek, Carl Dahlstrom, and Philip Holm. It appears these are the top four candidates for the seventh and eighth defensive spots.
2. Final Spots on the Top-Six
We know Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome will make up part of the top two lines, likely with the first two on the top line and the former two on the second line. Based on their success from last season, presumably head coach Jeremy Colliton will at least start out this way. But after that things are pretty much up in the air.
Who will earn the coveted left-wing spot next to Toews and Kane? Drake Caggiula ended last season there. Brandon Saad would be a good option. People are thinking Dominik Kubalik could get a shot. Andrew Shaw is available.
And who will line up to the right of Strome and DeBrincat? Shaw plays both sides, so he again could be an option. Or Dylan Sikura. Maybe Brendan Perlini. Perhaps Zach Smith?
Shaw makes more sense next to Strome and DeBrincat so Saad can play on his natural side with Toews and Kane. But I predict Shawzy gets first shot at the left-wing next to Toews and Kane. He’s played with Kane in training camp so far, and the two look good together. Plus their lockers are next to each other in the dressing room. Coincidence?
Who knows? Anything can happen.
3. The Battle of the Bottom-Six Forwards
Which leads us to the battle of the bottom-six. Unfortunately, 2019 third overall pick Kirby Dach is side-lined under concussion protocol after a hit in Traverse City. If he can’t play in the preseason, his chances of making the team are obviously minimal. It’s disappointing for Dach and the Blackhawks, but there are plenty of talented players waiting in the wings.
Ryan Carpenter and David Kampf look to center the third and fourth lines, although we don’t know who gets which slot. I’ve made the argument that Smith might actually be a better choice at center than either of these two.
And the options at wing! If Saad and Shaw truly do round out the top-six then Caggiula, Kubalik, Perlini, Sikura, and Smith appear to be locks on the bottom-six. Remember, clubs usually carry twelve forwards, so already that’s five players to fill the six open slots.
But other names to watch are Alex Nylander, John Quenneville, Anton Wedin, Aleksi Saarela, Matthew Highmore, and Brandon Hagel.
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There’s lots of depth among this year’s camp attendees, and it should provide for plenty of competition. Nothing is a given.
4. Crawford/Lehner Usage
We might not really get a feel for this until the regular season begins. The Blackhawks will be giving their depth goaltenders Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen, and Alexis Gravel some love in the preseason. But all eyes will certainly be on Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner and how they will handle their dual role as top goaltenders this season. Will there be a true No. 1 and No. 2? Or will it be more of a 50/50 split?
Crawford was brutally honest when asked about sharing equal time in net.
Corey Crawford was asked if splitting the starts this season will help him stay fresher long-term, and he basically said…no.— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) September 13, 2019
"Personally, I feel better when I play more."
But being the newcomer to the team, Lehner was a bit more diplomatic.
“We’ve talked. He’s (Crawford) a great guy and a great goaltender. This year, it’s a team that wants to make the playoffs again and we want to win, so you have to earn your starts and that’s what it’s all about.”
Both Crawford and Lehner are playing on one-year contracts, so essentially they’re both fighting for their jobs. Lehner is right; they’ll have to earn their starts. This could get interesting.
5. Colliton’s Control
We all know Colliton replaced the legendary Joel Quenneville after only 15 games last season. Therefore this is Colliton’s first full training camp and preseason. It’s a very valuable time for him and his coaching staff to establish themselves and their system with the players. It will be interesting to see how he handles it.
After giving up the second most number of goals in the NHL last season, Colliton’s first order of business is to focus on defensive zone coverage. A number of drills were dedicated to this during the first two days of camp. As the head coach said on Friday,
I just think getting guys on the same page as quickly as we can, that’s really important. You saw there was a lot of D-zone work today. That’ll continue and we’ll just sort of roll out how we’re going to play day-by-day so that we’re ready.
It looks like Colliton is off to a good start.
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Preseason is always an exciting time. Not only does it mean the regular season is right around the corner, but it’s a time to gain some insight on how the team will look on opening night and beyond. Keep an eye on these five things and more as you watch the Blackhawks in their exhibition games. And remember, it’s almost October!