Hockey will be here before we know it for the Chicago Blackhawks and the rest of the league. Blackhawks’ training camp officially starts this Thursday, Sept. 23. The first preseason game is Sept. 29 against the Detroit Red Wings, and opening night is Oct. 13 versus the division rival Colorado Avalanche. While the Blackhawks prepare for the 2021-22 season, hockey fans and analysts alike will be predicting their optimal starting lineup.
Well, I certainly don’t want to miss out on putting in my two cents! Here are my projected forward lines and defensive pairings for the Blackhawks’ opening night roster.
Blackhawks’ Forward Lines
Kubalik (L) – Toews (L) – Gaudette (R)
DeBrincat (L) – Dach (R) – Kane (R)
Strome (L) – Johnson (R) – Hagel (L)
Nylander (L) – Carpenter (R) – Khaira (L)
Left Out: Kurashev (L), Connolly (R), Reichel (L), Borgstrom (L)
This was harder than I thought! Once you put all the Blackhawks’ forwards together, you realize they have a lot of depth. Whether that translates to a cohesive forward group is another story. But the coaching staff certainly has a lot of tools to work with.
I included each players’ shooting tendency to give some further insight into my decisions. But obviously good players can adjust as needed; so this is just a guideline. Let’s get to the analysis.
I’m going to assume Jonathan Toews is completely healthy and ready to start the season somewhere close to his former form. All reports point in this direction. If this is the case, Toews is by far the top line center. Otherwise, Tyler Johnson would likely be the next center up.
But let’s stick with Toews for now. Toews and Dominik Kubalik had excellent chemistry in the 2019-20 season when Kubalik scored 30 goals in his rookie season. It makes a lot of sense to try that combination again. To round out this trio I went with Adam Gaudette. Sure, Henrik Borgstrom or Lukas Reichel could vie for this spot. They certainly have more draft pedigree (Gaudette was chosen in the 5th round in 2015 while Reichel and Borgstrom are 1st round picks).
Gaudette was diagnosed last fall with candidiasis, a condition where a type of yeast in the body grows out of control. Before this he struggled with discomfort and a lack of appetite he didn’t understand. But now he’s adjusted his diet and is on his way to his optimal weight. (From ‘Blackhawks’ Adam Gaudette anticipates big offseason after overcoming candidiasis’, The Chicago Sun-Times, 5/4/21)
He’s expecting this adjustment to make a huge impact on his game. Gaudette impressed with one goal and three assists in just seven games with the Blackhawks when he joined them at the trade deadline. Plus, he’s a right winger on a team that is quite short in that department. It could give him a leg up heading into the season. It might not stick long term, but I see Gaudette getting a chance at the coveted right wing top line spot.
This is a no-brainer to me. Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane have developed tons of chemistry; they should be put on the same line together. Actually, this is arguably the top line for the Blackhawks. And I believe Kirby Dach would be the perfect complement for them.
Dach is a bigger body to balance out two smaller players in Kane and DeBrincat. And he’s not afraid to do the dirty work along the boards and in the corners. Although, Dach needs to work on his faceoff numbers so he can gain possession for this line.
I believe Johnson will be key here. On a team that hasn’t had much center depth in the recent past, Johnson could be a piece to the puzzle they didn’t have before.
Dylan Strome might find himself the odd man out eventually. But to start the season I think he will get every chance to prove he can still be impactful on this team. His place was mostly on the third line in the past, so I’m slotting him here for the 2021-22 season as well. With him shooting left and Johnson shooting right, they could share the faceoff duties depending on their opponent.
Add the energy and tenacity of Brandon Hagel, and you might just have yourself a very strong and dangerous third line.
I’m not gonna lie to you; I really like Ryan Carpenter centering the fourth line for the Blackhawks. He played wing most of last season, but that was primarily because David Kampf was better at winning faceoffs. We all know Kampf is with the Toronto Maple Leafs now.
New addition Jujhar Khaira could share the duties with faceoffs as well, since he shoots left and Carpenter shoots right. Both are psychical, grinding players that could solidify a solid fourth line.
I stuck Alex Nylander on the fourth line because, like Strome, I believe he will be given a shot out of the gate after missing last season due to knee surgery. He’s not exactly your typical fourth line player; so maybe you could swap out Gaudette for Nylander on the first line. It’s hard to say.
The long and the short of it is that I believe these are the forward players that will get first dibs for the opening night roster. We already mentioned that Borgstrom and Riechel could change that with strong performances in training camp. Philipp Kurashev is no slouch from his rookie season (8 goals and 16 points in 54 games). Brett Connolly is a veteran that could add some value.
All in all, it’s a good problem to have with this kind of depth at forward.
Blackhawks Defensive Pairings
de Haan (L) – S. Jones (R)
McCabe (L) – Murphy (R)
Stillman (L) – Kalynuk (L & R)
C. Jones (L)
Left Out: Beaudin (L), Mitchell (R), Regula (R)
Seth Jones is by default the top overall defenseman for the Blackhawks. You might not agree with the signing, or the commitment and term. But like it or not Jones is here to stay. Let’s hope he can live up to expectations.
Calvin de Haan makes the most sense as his partner, being a stay-at-home defenseman and a left-handed shot. These two could balance each other quite well.
Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe are both American and have played together since they were kids on U.S. teams. They are both known for their physical play and shut down abilities. It makes all the sense in the world to put them together as the main shutdown pairing.
This is where things could get interesting. Riley Stillman and Caleb Jones would have to clear waivers if they were sent down to the Rockford IceHogs, so that gives them a leg up to be kept in Chicago. Stillman established himself as a solid defenseman with the Blackhawks last season, and Jones boasts more NHL games (93) than Stillman and any of the other young defensemen. He’ll obviously work to leverage that to his advantage.
Finally, I feel that Wyatt Kalynuk will win the the final spot. He came in after both Ian Mitchell and Nicolas Beaudin on the depth chart last season. But once he got his chance he never looked back, compiling four goals and nine points in 21 games. He was responsible defensively and jumped into the play offensively. He’s also versatile in that he can play on both the left and right side.
I put Stillman and Kalynuk as the third pairing above, but I honestly think there will be some sort of regular rotation between Stillman, Kalynuk and C. Jones. Meanwhile Beaudin, Mitchell and Alec Regula will benefit from big minutes and further development in Rockford.
What do you think Blackhawks fans?! What would be your ideal forward lines and defensive pairings for the opening night roster? Feel free to leave your comments below; I love a good debate!
Is it October yet?
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Quote to live by, “Follow your dreams, and good things will happen.” Wait, maybe it’s “Good things happen when you shoot the puck!” You get the idea.
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