Blackhawks Projected Lines & Pairings Headed Into Training Camp

The Chicago Blackhawks start training camp practices on Thursday, Sept. 22. While they’re in rebuilding mode and aren’t expected to be very good this season, that doesn’t mean much to the players and coaches. They play to win, no matter what. To them, training camp is an opportunity for a clean slate and a fresh start. Prospects will be gunning to make the team, new players trying to find their fit, and veterans looking for ways to be better than last year. With all that going on, the coaching staff will be striving to put it all together in order to ice the best team they can for the regular season.

Related – 3 Blackhawks’ Burning Questions Heading Into 2022-23 Season

As we ramp up for the upcoming 2022-23 campaign, let’s take a stab at some early predictions of how the forward lines and defensive pairings might play out. I plan to revisit this and re-evaluate after training camp and before the regular season as well. Because who doesn’t LOVE predicting the lines and pairings?! Play along with me, and let’s see if anyone can come close to the real deal!

Blackhawks Lines & Pairings From Last Season

Below was the lineup from the Blackhawks’ last contest of 2021-22 season against the Buffalo Sabres on Apr. 29. Although, we all know the team lost a LOT of integral players in the offseason. I have accordingly crossed them off.

Alex DeBrincat – Dylan Strome – Patrick Kane

Dominik Kubalik – Jonathan Toews – Tyler Johnson

Philipp Kurashev – Sam Lafferty – Taylor Raddysh

Boris Katchouk – Reese Johnson – Henrik Borgstrom

Alex Vlasic – Seth Jones

Jake McCabe – Erik Gustafsson

Riley Stillman – Caleb Jones

That’s an awful lot of strike throughs! Chicago has lost the majority of their top-six forwards, and then some. It’s pretty obvious the goal, by management at least, is to tank for a high draft pick. But let’s get back to the task at hand and explore what could formulate the forward lines.

Blackhawks Projected Forward Lines

One thing to remember is that Derek King was head coach for the majority of last season. He was the man that helped formulate and eventually approve the above lines. In his new role as assistant coach, and with his background as a former NHL forward, King’s specialty will be to provide input on the offensive end. Especially to start out the season, new head coach Luke Richardson will most certainly defer to him about who fit well last season.

Luke Richardson Montreal Canadiens
Chicago Blackhawks’ new head coach Luke Richardson will likely be looking for lineup advice from former head coach (now assistant coach) Derek King. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With that in mind, the third line of Kurashev, Lafferty and Raddysh stands out as sticking together, at least at the beginning. I don’t think they will stay together long term, because each of them has top-six potential. It simply depends on which of them might be in more of a position to run with it. But the trio played together the last six games of last season, and developed some strong chemistry together.

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Obviously, Kane is going to need some new linemates. It’s been highly discussed over the last few weeks, and especially during the recent prospects showcase, that Lukas Reichel is ready to take that next step as an NHL regular. I foresee him making the team out of training camp and being paired with Kane. Who better to show this skilled prospect the ropes?! Now, neither one of these two is known for their prowess on the defensive end, so this is where new Blackhawk Max Domi will come in to balance things out.

Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Who will be Patrick Kane’s new linemates in the 2022-23 season? (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

So who will play with Toews? Once T. Johnson returned from injury last season, the two were paired together for the last eight games. Because of his speed and skill level, I could see new Blackhawk Andreas Athanasiou rounding out that line.

Related – 5 Blackhawks Poised for Breakout Success in 2022-23

Finally, there will be some competition for the fourth line grinding role. If Jujhar Khaira is healthy, I believe he will get first dibs based on his age (28 years old) and seniority. Katchouk is a player that was acquired by the Blackhawks in late March. In his short time with Chicago, he’s carved out his role. MacKenzie Entwistle was injured at the end of last season (hence he’s not a part of the above lines), but he’s a prospect that showed great promise throughout the campaign.

With all that said, here’s how I see the forward lines coming together.

Domi – Reichel – Kane

Athanasiou – Toews – T. Johnson

Kurashev – Lafferty – Raddysh

Katchouk – Khaira – Entwistle

Extras: Colin Blackwell, R. Johnson

While R. Johnson participated in 37 games with the Blackhawks last season, I just don’t see him beating out the above three fourth line players. Blackwell is another body that was acquired in the offseason, but I see him as a bit of an older player (29 years old) the Blackhawks won’t have a problem sitting out.

Blackhawks Projected Defensive Pairings

Since the Blackhawks lost Jake McCabe due to offseason cervical spine surgery, things are a lot more open on the back end. Let’s look at the team’s most recent lineup once again, with McCabe crossed off (Gustafsson was not re-signed).

Vlasic – S. Jones

McCabe Gustafsson

Stillman – C. Jones

Bear in mind Connor Murphy was also injured at the end of last season, which is why he isn’t included above. This is likely part of the reason the Blackhawks acquired veteran Jack Johnson, since they’ve made it known they don’t want to rush their prospects. Let’s pencil in Johnson, along with the regular players from last season: S. Jones, Murphy, Stillman and C. Jones.

Patrice Bergeron, Connor Murphy
Connor Murphy missed the end of last season due to injury, but should be healthy to start the 2022-23 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

That still leaves one more roster spot and an extra spot to complete the usual seven defensemen most teams carry on a 23-man roster. So, who will it be?

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Alex Vlasic was named as a standout player in the Blackhawks recent prospect camp. He also more than held his own on the top pairing with S. Jones at the end of last season. If Vlasic has a strong training camp, I think he has an excellent shot at making the team. The other prospect to keep an eye on is Ian Mitchell, who was the Rockford IceHogs leading defenseman last season. If I had to make a choice between all the prospects, I would go with these two. So the defensive pairings as training camp shakes out could look like this:

Vlasic – S. Jones

Stillman – Murphy

C. Jones – J. Johnson

Extra: Mitchell

Now, don’t get me wrong. It won’t do Mitchell any good to sit around as an extra when he could be down with the IceHogs I personally think Johnson will be the odd man out more often than not. But each D-man, especially the youngsters in Mitchell and Vlasic, will be part of a rotation where they might sit for observing and learning purposes. That said, I predict the above will be the pairings as we head into the season.

Ian Mitchell Chicago Blackhawks
Defenseman Ian Mitchell is a promising prospect that could make the team out of training camp. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

I also put Stillman with Murphy, and C. Jones with J. Johnson, for purposes of balance between a youngster and a veteran. Who knows, maybe Stillman and C. Jones could be swapped depending on chemistry, or they could stick together as the third pairing. If/when Mitchell draws in, he would be best served on the right side since he’s a right-handed shot. The defensive pairings tend to be a lot more fluid than the forward lines, so there’s more flexibility.

Gail’s Projections for Blackhawks’ Lines & Pairings

To review, here are my picks for the forward lines and defensive pairings as we head into training camp and preseason games.

Domi – Reichel – Kane

Athanasiou – Toews – T. Johnson

Kurashev – Lafferty – Raddysh

Katchouk – Khaira – Entwistle

Vlasic – S. Jones

Stillman – Murphy

C. Jones – J. Johnson

Extras: (F) Colin Blackwell, (F) Reese Johnson, (D) Ian Mitchell

Keep in mind this is a starting point based upon what we know from last season and the offseason signings. Competition will be stiff in training camp, and things could change based who stands out and who doesn’t.

Related – Chicago Blackhawks Roundtable: 2022-23 Season Preview

There will be plenty to watch and more predictions to make as camp and preseason games play out. Stay tuned for further analysis as we go.

Is it October yet?!