As the Stanley Cup Final has reached its final conclusion, congratulations to the Washington Capitals on their magnificent achievement, Chicago Blackhawks fans are left wondering if they will be back. Their season was considered a drastic disappointment, missing out on the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Changes do have to be made, especially on the defense, but what about the offense?
Yes, Chicago still has Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They also have breakout stars in Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat. But beyond that, they have guys coming off down seasons and unproven rookies looking to make an impact. Couple that with the total loss of Marian Hossa, and the Blackhawks have a lot of questions.
This is going to be a brief look at what Chicago can do with the people currently on their roster. Therefore, there won’t be any crazy theories or “what if” scenarios. That means there isn’t going to be a line with John Tavares, Kane and DeBrincat. Just a reminder that these are purely my opinion and thoughts on the matter.
The first line has two guarantees; Toews will be the center and Brandon Saad will be on the left wing. Normally, the right wing slot would have been taken by Hossa, but considering he is fully retired, that isn’t going to happen. The Blackhawks have a couple of intriguing options that could be on the first line.
First, they could put DeBrincat up there and have a pure sniper assisting on Toews and Saad. Toews can create the plays, DeBrincat can find the open space and Saad would crash the net and cash in on the rebound goals. It wouldn’t be a bad option, and would certainly generate some offense. However, the more intriguing option would be putting Vinnie Hinostroza on that right wing slot.
Hinostroza is one of the fastest skaters currently on the Blackhawks roster, if not the quickest. He would be able to blast through the neutral zone on a breakaway, while Toews and Saad would come barreling after him and cash in on a potential goal. Toews has enough playmaking skill to support the speed, while Saad would constantly be making screens in front of the net.
So, figure line one is going to be Saad – Toews – Hinostroza
The second line also contains two guarantees. Patrick Kane will be on the right wing and Nick Schmaltz will be centering him. As for the left wing spot, there are also some options to choose from. Despite the fact that DeBrincat is listed as a right winger, he can play the left side. Considering that DeBrincat and Kane were one and two in goal scoring, this line has the potential to just light up the scoresheet.
However, the same problem exists as the first line. That much scoring on one line, considering that all three players placed in the top four in points for Chicago last year, would resemble the Blackhawks from the 2015-16 season, where the second line did all the damage. The team does have another option in Dylan Sikura, and he represents a wild card.
Sikura is considered the Blackhawks top prospect, and he had five games worth of experience at the tail end of last season. Much has been written about Sikura’s offensive prowess, and couple that with Kane’s explosive scoring ability and Schmaltz’s continued elevation and the Blackhawks have a line to be reckoned with.
Let’s say line two is Sikura – Schmaltz – Kane
The third line is more of a toss up. Considering that Artem Anisimov is still on the team, theoretically he would fill in the third line center role. However, he was absolutely terrible when not on a line with Kane. Hopefully he can learn to play with other players and become a solid third line center. On his wings would be DeBrincat, to even out the scoring, and either Victor Edjsell or Anthony Duclair.
DeBrincat’s scoring touch would thrive with Anisimov’s ability to offer a solid front-net presence. The both of them could create a ton of opportunities to put points on the board, and if DeBrincat can continue shooting the way that he did last season, he could easily eclipse 30 goals.
The other wing is not as proven, because Duclair didn’t exactly thrive with Chicago after the trade. Sure, he’s got speed and in the past had a scoring touch, but it didn’t translate this time around. Edjsell is a more complicated issue, because he came over initially as a center, but the Blackhawks have had discussions about putting him on the wing due to his heavy shot. Either way, this would balance out the scoring and not make Chicago a one line team again.
Line three would be DeBrincat – Anisimov – Duclair
The fourth line would just be some physical bodies, like John Hayden or Andreas Martinsen, with David Kampf centering them. Kampf proved to be a useful fourth line player, and there is no reason to suspect that he won’t have an inside track for next season. Hayden has a big, physical body that can get to the front of the net and screen for pucks flying in. Martinsen had a couple games with the Blackhawks and he proved valuable enough to warrant a one-year extension.
Line four would be Hayden – Kampf – Martinsen
To make it simple, this is what an everyday Chicago lineup would look like:
Saad – Toews – Hinostroza
Sikura – Schmaltz – Kane
DeBrincat – Anisimov – Duclair
Hayden – Kampf – Martinsen
Obviously, this will change when free agency hits, when the front office is done making trades, if some players impress the coaching staff enough in training camp, and any surprise rookies at the rookie tournament in Traverse City. But for right now, it looks like a solid group that has a balanced scoring structure and a good mixture of speed, skill and physicality.
Please let me know your thoughts and concerns on the matter. What do you think the lines will look like?