There’s no question about it. Entering a rebuild, it will probably be a long time before the Chicago Blackhawks make the Stanley Cup Playoffs again. Of course, anything’s possible, and we could see a quicker turnaround than expected like that of the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings most recently. However, things will probably get worse before they get better in the upcoming seasons.
While more than three weeks have passed since the Blackhawks’ final regular-season game of 2021-22, there are several players competing for the Stanley Cup right now who have previously donned the red and white. Seven of the eight remaining teams have at least one former Blackhawk on their roster. As the playoffs continue, here are four former Blackhawks who have made a positive impact in their pursuit of a championship.
Artemi Panarin, 30, signed with the Blackhawks in 2015 after playing the first seven seasons of his professional career in Russia for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Despite having no North American experience, he quickly flourished in the Windy City. Panarin recorded 77 points in his rookie season in 2015-16, winning the Calder Trophy before recording 74 points in 2016-17 while developing chemistry with linemates Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks, though, then traded Panarin in June 2017 to the Columbus Blue Jackets before the Russian winger signed a seven-year contract with the Rangers in 2019.
Given that he’s emerged into a superstar, it’s bittersweet reflecting on Panarin’s short tenure in Chicago, especially knowing that the Blackhawks probably could have gotten a better return when they dealt him. However, it’s been exciting to see him grow and succeed in a high-profile market like New York.
Through 10 games in the playoffs, Panarin has eight points (three goals and five assists), including scoring the series-winning goal to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 of the first round. Despite trailing 2-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes in their second-round matchup, Panarin has been a key part of the Rangers’ success this postseason and their overall turnaround.
The Blackhawks drafted Teuvo Teräväinen 18th overall in the 2012 Draft with the hopes that he’d emerge into a solid top-to-middle-six forward. After briefly making his NHL debut in 2013-14, Teräväinen skated in 34 games in 2014-15. He then posted a respectable 35 points in 78 games in 2015-16, bringing potential and a decent two-way game to the forward group. Chicago, however, dealt him the following offseason to the Hurricanes along with now-retired forward Bryan Bickell, as the Blackhawks were looking to get rid of Bickell’s contract and had to include an additional asset to sweeten the deal.
Since joining the Hurricanes, Teräväinen has arguably exceeded the expectations Blackhawks fans had when he was drafted. He’s recorded 60 or more points in four of the last five seasons. Along with Sebastian Aho, Jaccob Slavin, and others, he’s one of many Hurricanes under 30 who have helped rebuild the franchise into a perennial contender.
Up 2-1 on the Rangers in their second-round series after defeating the Boston Bruins in seven games in their first-round matchup, Teräväinen has played a key role in Carolina’s success this postseason. He has nine points in 10 games (two goals and seven assists) and is a plus-6.
Another Hurricane, Antti Raanta, has been an unexpected yet significant player for Carolina this postseason. On April 16, the team lost stalwart netminder Frederik Andersen due to a lower-body injury, and Raanta, who served as the team’s backup, had to take over the starting duties. Yet, even after finishing the regular season on a high note, Raanta’s been stellar this postseason. Through nine games, he’s 5-3 with a .939 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-against average.
Raanta’s Blackhawks’ roots go back to 2013 when Chicago signed him to a one-year, entry-level contract after playing four seasons in Finland. From 2013-15, he split time between the Blackhawks and the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rockford IceHogs. However, Raanta proved he could serve as an NHL-caliber backup during his Chicago tenure, recording a .936 save percentage through 14 regular-season games in 2014-15.
Between Corey Crawford and Scott Darling, though, he was unable to secure a full-time role with the Blackhawks. In June 2015, Chicago traded him to the Rangers. Raanta, now 33, then had stints with New York and the Arizona Coyotes from 2015-21, before signing a two-year, $4 million contract with the Hurricanes last offseason.
Though he had some potential, Gustav Forsling was really no more than a defensive depth piece during his Blackhawks’ career from 2016-19. The Vancouver Canucks initially drafted Forsling in 2014 before they traded his rights to Chicago the following January. After spending two seasons in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Forsling signed a three-year deal with the Blackhawks in May 2016 and spent the first three seasons of his NHL career in Chicago, skating in 123 games. He was then dealt to the Hurricanes in June 2019 before the Florida Panthers picked him up off waivers in January 2021.
Forsling, 25, never quite flourished in Chicago, but he had an impressive breakout season with the Panthers in 2020-21 before posting a career-high 37 points in 71 games this season. This postseason, he’s been just as solid. He skated in all seven games of Florida’s first-round series, a 4-3 defeat of the Washington Capitals, recording a plus-10 while adding two assists. The Panthers’ Stanley Cup hopes are in jeopardy as they trail the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 in their second-round matchup, but he’s remained a bright spot for their defense.
Players Worth Watching
For many fans, considering the current state of the Blackhawks, seeing these players succeed for different teams might be a little tough to swallow. It’s also been exciting, though, to see these players and others elevate their game, especially someone like Forsling, who has essentially reinvented his career. Though Chicago fans might not have much to root for right now, these former Blackhawks are thriving and have all stepped up for their respective clubs.