The first month of the 2018-19 hockey season is upon us, and the Chicago Blackhawks are in this thing for better or for worse. There have been so many question marks surrounding this team throughout the offseason. But the preseason has given us a glimpse at some of the answers. Will they be the kind of answers that make the Hawks contenders this year? Or will it be another disappointing season that ends in April instead of June? The Hockey Writers’ team of Meghan Dillon, Greg Boysen, and Gail Kauchak delves into three questions (and answers) as we continue our monthly roundtable installments.
There was some healthy competition this preseason offensively, defensively, and in net for the Blackhawks. We learned that there are several talented players who are on the verge of being NHL-ready. With that in mind, who do you think will be the first player to get called up from AHL Rockford this season?
1. First Blackhawk Call-Up
That’s a tough question, but I think I’d either go with Dylan Sikura on offense or Carl Dahlstrom on defense. Sikura was one of the last players sent to Rockford, which means they were considering him for the opening-night roster longer than most. He had a decent preseason and made his NHL debut last season, so he has some experience under his belt. He makes the most sense, but it really depends on how he performs in Rockford.
Dahlstrom would be a good pick if someone on defense was performing under par or got injured. Like Sikura, he had a very good preseason.
As mentioned above, the Blackhawks have quite a few players who look to be NHL-ready down in Rockford. The first call-up will likely be a forward since the Blackhawks can wait until Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling return from injury to make changes on the back end. Of course, if there is another injury to the defense, Dahlstrom is likely the first player driving east from Rockford.
If I had to place a bet on the player who is the first to get the call back to Chicago, it is between the last two forwards cut from training camp: Victor Ejdsell and Sikura. Both players were expected to be on the opening-night roster but did not make it due to being outplayed by Dominik Kahun and Luke Johnson. Which one returns first will depend on the needs at the NHL level. It will also depend on how these youngsters handle being demoted. We have seen a stint in the AHL work wonders with a guy like Nick Schmaltz, but you have to have the right attitude and use the time to your advantage.
I can’t disagree with Meghan and Greg. I also think Sikura, Ejdsell, and Dahlstrom are most likely to be the first players called up from Rockford. And of course, it all depends on the needs of the team.
That being said, I favor Ejdsell. He played six games with the Hawks last season, and Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times recently wrote about how he was then an integral part of the IceHogs’ playoff run (from ‘Prolific playoff performance propels Victor Ejdsell to the brink of the NHL, The Chicago Sun-Times – 9/9/18). Plus he has some versatility in that he can play both center and wing. His size and physicality could also be an advantage, presumably somewhere within the bottom-six forwards.
Even though Sikura might have more raw skill, further development in Rockford might be just what the doctor ordered. Don’t rush him. Let the more experienced Ejdsell make his impact instead. Sikura can wait until the push for the playoffs (positive thinking!).
The Blackhawks’ first, second and fourth offensive lines have all found some level of success in the preseason. The third line, on the other hand, has struggled. If you could be the coach for the day, what would you do to create a successful third line?
2. Third Line Solutions
The success of the third line depends on who has the best chemistry with Artem Anisimov. He most likely won’t be as successful as he was with Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin by his side, but he can definitely improve. As Gail wrote in her last piece, Chris Kunitz and David Kampf show promise, but they really need to have chemistry with Anisimov.
If I were the coach for a day, I would work on who has the best chemistry with Anisimov to ensure success on the third line. The first two lines are pretty set, but experimenting with fourth-line wingers like John Hayden and Andreas Martinsen can’t hurt.
I’m going to call the third line the “I-90 Line” because we are likely to see a shuffle of players between Chicago and Rockford on it this season. Joel Quenneville gave a look to Brandon Saad on the third line during the preseason, but that did not work out so well. Saad tried to drive the offense on his own with lesser players and that is just not his game.
Quenneville will probably make us all mad with some of his line combinations this year, but the one constant will be that Kunitz will take away valuable NHL minutes from a young player.
Bring on John Hayden! Hayden has more potential than his current fourth line role. He could be the guy to provide the spark the third line needs. Hayden should take Kunitz’s place on this line.
This Yale University graduate played on the first line with Jonathan Toews when he first came into the league. He was recently promoted to the second line in the preseason when Sikura struggled, and he took Sikura’s spot on the power play.
In practice on Monday, Hayden moved up to the first line when Alex DeBrincat was out sick. Quenneville has his eye on this young winger. Even though the trio of Hayden-Marcus Kruger-Martinsen has been impressive in the preseason, there are other options. Madeleine Kenney of the Chicago Sun-Times divulged how Coach Q has discussed putting Luke Johnson on the fourth line at center with Kruger and Martinsen on his wings (from “After learning ‘how to be a pro’ in AHL, Johnson ready for chance with Hawks’, The Chicago Sun-Times, – 10/1/18).
Related – 5 Blackhawks Fan Questions for 2018-19
The Blackhawks have developed a number of intense rivalries throughout the years. After all, when you’re the winner of three Stanley Cups, you become the team to beat, and the team to hate. But the Hawks aren’t as dominant as they used to be, and dynamics change throughout the years.
For example, remember when the Vancouver Canucks were the Hawks’ sworn enemies? The Detroit Red Wings used to be a much more heated rivalry when they were still in the Central Division along with the Hawks. For this 2018-19 season, what rivalry do you believe will be the most likely to develop or continue?
3. Biggest Blackhawks Rivalry in 2018-19 Season
I think rivalries rarely change. Some have faded out like with the Red Wings and the Canucks. But the rivalry with the St. Louis Blues will always be relevant, especially after the Hawks helped knock them out of the playoffs last year. It’s one of the best rivalries of the league, and the fans love it.
The Nashville Predators are also a good rivalry, although I’d argue that has more to do with the fans. The Los Angeles Kings (think of the 2014 Western Conference Final) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (think Sidney Crosby in general) are good ones as well. One could really include every team in the Central Division and the Original Six teams. I think there could be a potential rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs. With John Tavares and Auston Matthews on their roster, they’re going to have a lot of enemies.
The St. Louis Blues will always be the Blackhawks’ biggest rival. We will get a large dose of the Blues as the two teams will meet four times within the first six weeks of the season.
The rivalry with the Nashville Predators is still strong, especially after their playoff series win in 2017. Their front office’s inferiority complex with Blackhawks fans showing up in Nashville will always keep the spark between these two teams. Minnesota and Chicago will always have a great rivalry too. Unfortunately, this season’s games between these two teams will decide who stays out of last place in the Central.
Well! Isn’t Greg a negative Nelly thinking Minnesota and Chicago will be fighting for last place in the Central. I’d wager that Dallas or even Colorado (yes, I said Colorado) could take the honor of that spot. But I digress.
Meghan makes a good point in that almost any two teams can develop a rivalry. This is hockey, for goodness’ sake! Although usually, clubs in the same division or conference are more likely to acquire a particular dislike for each other. After all, these are the teams that play most often. And playoff rivalries can get pretty intense.
With that in mind, I’m leaning towards Nashville as the biggest rivalry. The Predators were the team that embarrassed the Hawks by sweeping them in four short games during the 2017 playoffs. That’s not easily forgotten. And let’s face it, it’s pretty much been downhill from there for the boys in red, white, and black. Success against this team could give the Hawks some much-needed redemption.
Thanks for reading our monthly roundtable installment for October! There will be plenty to talk about as the season gets underway. Stay tuned, as the Blackhawks are just getting started!