If you’re a young player gunning for the Chicago Blackhawks, this could be your year.
The Hawks currently have only ten forwards and six defensemen listed on their official roster. A complete team usually carries 14 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goaltenders to make up a 23-man roster. Assuming the Hawks go with two goalies (most teams do), that leaves four forward spots and one defensive spot available.
We already discussed in our most recent roundtable that even with more cap space, the Blackhawks trade options are limited, and would probably come at the price of one of the current rising stars. It could still happen, but chances are the Hawks don’t make another big trade before the season starts. With that in mind, who will round out the extra spots? Let’s take a look.
Blackhawks Projected Forward Lineup
Last preseason I wrote about Blackhawks forwards fighting for a spot on the team. At the time, these were the set players.
Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Alex DeBrincat-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Artem Anisimov-Ryan Hartman
The Hawks also had a few free agent veteran signings that took precedence over the youngsters. Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels, and Tomas Jurco started the season because they would have had to clear waivers if they were sent down to Rockford. Not to mention Patrick Sharp coming back from the Dallas Stars. These veterans rounded out the lines.
But this year the only veteran addition at forward is the free agent signing of Chris Kunitz from the Tampa Bay Lightning. This leaves things a little more open for the newbies. As of now, here’s what a lineup could look like for the Blackhawks based on the existing roster.
Kunitz-Marcus Kruger-John Hayden
Hayden and Sikura are both already listed on the roster and are two young players with the best chance of making the team. While it’s not a guarantee, it’s safe to say they have a good shot.
Hayden signed a two-year contract in June, leading one to believe he’s part of the Hawks’ plans moving forward. He was one of the youngsters (along with DeBrincat) that did crack the opening night roster last season. He suited up for 47 games, contributing four goals and nine assists. The young forward played mostly on the fourth line, providing grit, energy, and a physical presence. Heck, he was credited with 118 hits. Towards the end of the year Hayden was assigned to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. There he became an integral member of their playoff push, and even contributed three goals in 13 playoff games.
Sikura is another player that looks to be a lock. The Hawks burned the first year of his two-year entry-level contract by playing him in the last five games of the 2017-18 season. The 22-year-old Northeastern graduate didn’t disappoint, earning three assists and showing he has the potential to contribute right away. He’s slotted on the third line in the depth chart above. But as a right winger and with his talent, could Sikura possibly plug into the top line alongside Saad and Toews?
Who Takes the Remaining Spots?
This leaves at least two open slots on the forward lines, as well as two back-up spots. So who will fill in these positions?
Victor Ejdsell is someone to keep an eye on. He came over from the Nashville Predators as part of the Ryan Hartman trade. Ejdsell impressed in his stint with the IceHogs, notching seven goals and five assists in 13 playoff games. His size and scoring abilities could come in handy for the Hawks.
Other IceHogs that excelled last season and could get extra looks at training camp include: David Kampf, Matthew Highmore, Alexandre Fortin, Anthony Louis, and Andreas Martinsen. A dark horse to watch is undrafted free agent Dominik Kahun, who signed an entry level contract with the Hawks in May.
Blackhawks Projected Defensive Lineup
If you recall, last season can best be described as a train wreck on defense. Head coach Joel Quenneville insisted on carrying eight defensemen for most of the season. The constant rotation resulted in the the D-corps struggling to find any kind of chemistry or cohesiveness.
Players such as Cody Franson, Gustav Forsling, and Erik Gustafsson all spent time with the IceHogs as well as the big club. Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta, Jordan Oesterle, and Michal Kempny were frequent healthy scratches. Heck, even Brent Seabrook was scratched for a game.
Fast forward to this upcoming season. Franson is still an unrestricted free-agent who hasn’t been re-signed by the Hawks. Oesterle was acquired by the Arizona Coyotes. Oh and then there’s Kempny, who’s a Stanley Cup Champion with the Washington Capitals. Yeah.
Here’s what the defensive pairings could look like for the Blackhawks based on the existing roster.
Manning is the only newcomer, being a free agent signing from the Philadelphia Flyers. Assuming Coach Q learns from his mistakes and only carries seven defensemen this season, that leaves one spot available.
Who Takes the Open Spot?
The most likely candidate for this slot would have been Forsling, who suited up for 41 games with the Blackhawks and 31 tilts for the IceHogs (including 13 playoff games). But the 22-year-old defenseman underwent wrist surgery at the end of July. He looks to be sidelined for at least 14 weeks, which wouldn’t make him available until early November. This leaves the position open for another youngster.
Current IceHog Carl Dahlstrom had a chance to suit up for 11 games with the Blackhawks at the end of last season. He recorded three assists. Prospect Blake Hillman from the University of Denver signed with the Hawks at the end of March, and participated in four games with the Hawks. He scored a goal. Both will have a chance to show their worth at training camp. Other possible candidates include prospect Lucas Carlsson out of Sweden, and Dennis Gilbert from the University of Notre Dame.
A dark horse that might not be such a dark horse anymore could be Henri Jokiharju. The 19-year-old was a 2017 first round draft pick by the Hawks, and recently signed a three-year entry level contract with the team. He performed well at the most recent prospect camp, and could do the same during training camp.
It appears there will be more of a chance for youngsters to earn a spot in the lineup this season for the Blackhawks. All this competition should make for an exciting training camp and preseason. Whether it makes for a better team in 2018-19 remains to be seen. But at least we’ll get to see a number of new faces!