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Blackhawks Season Preview Part 2: Forwards

We started the Blackhawks Preview Blogs yesterday with the defense. That was by design because there was a TON of turnover on defense, a lot of question marks, and an element of finger-nail-biting. Not the tone you want to set going into Game No.1. For Opening Night you want to be HYPED and if you want to get hyped about the Blackhawks you talk about their forwards because oooooh baby are they going to be good. It’s never good to lose players like Panarin, Hossa, and Kruger, but I love how the Blackhawks added to their arsenal. I think they’ll be more dynamic, more balanced, and much harder to play against. This is a group you should be excited about.

As you probably know by now, line combinations are never permanent with Joel Quenneville. He will mix and match all day long to create better matchups or simply to try and energize the team. The one exception to that rule maybe the Toews line this season.

Saad-Toews-Panik

Welcome back Brandon Saad, and also welcome back the real Jonathan Toews. Toews has cycled through wingers the past two seasons as Saad and Sharp were traded and Hossa was moved down and now out of the lineup. His production has declined. He was slowed by a lingering back issue last year and lacked continuity with teammates. That seems to be a thing of the past.

This line is fast, its big, it’s skilled…plus it’s fast. This is a road grader type of line. They are going compete, steal pucks, play keep away, and wear opponents out up and down the ice. You’re going to see a lot of players on the other bench looking out at the ice like this after Saad-Toews-Panik is done with them

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In addition to being one of the Blackhawks best lines offensively, they’re also going to be matched against the top line of the opponent. Saad is a big time two-way player, and Toews never stopped being an elite defensive center. He’s finished in the top 6 for Selke every years since 2009.

It would not shock me in the least if this line put up a combined 80 goals this year. For the first time since 2015 the Blackhawks will have some balanced scoring throughout their lineup and that is a very bad thing for people who have written them off.

Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane

I don’t know who will get the most minutes at Left Wing with these two. This preseason it’s been mostly DeBrincat and Patrick Sharp. Looks like they’re starting the regular seaon with Ryan Hartman in the LW spot. Whoever gets in there has hit the lottery because this line is about to COOK.

Obviously Panarin was a great talent and he and Kane shared some chemistry, but I gotta say…I’m more excited for this Schmaltz-Kane line because I think it’ll be more dynamic. As great as Panarin is, he typically plays a slow down game once its over the blueline and then he likes to go one-on-one. Which is fine, but it becomes predictable at times. Those days of predictability of Kane’s line are OVER.

Schmatlz is going to create so much space with his speed. Kane has never had that. This is what I have been talking about since like June on this blog. Schmaltz can back defenders off with his speed, and Kane can find space behind him. Do that a few times and Dmen are going to start cheating a bit, and then Schmaltz simply blows their doors off and gets to the net. If Kane has the puck on the wall and defenders over play him well then Schmaltz will be streaking down the middle in one-time shooting position as a right shot. Criss-crossing, opening lanes, challenging dmen east-west AND north-south

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Schmaltz has all of the tools needed to be an offensive super star at center. There’s one super-star who makes extremely skilled plays at high speed that I want to compare him to,  but I can’t because it’ll get taken out of context, but you know who it is. Schmaltz has even improved at the dot so far in preseason. He was quoted about working on draws a lot this summer, but I think the new rules will really benefit him as well. Face-offs will be about quick hands, not a wrestling match. He was at 30% last year which seems almost impossible to be that bad. I’m so excited to watch Schmaltz and Kane work some magic this year. I like all three options at LW. Sharp, Hartman, and DeBrincat all bring different things to the table, but they all have the ability to put pucks in the net. Get to the right places and you’ll be rewarded playing with these two. LETS GOOO!

Sharp-Anisimov-DeBrincat

Again, these lines were based on the morning skates from Oct 4th. This line will kind of be in flux all year, but having this type of fire power on your “third line” is ridiculous. Two veteran guys who play the right way to bring along the kid. Another line that has a little bit of everything and if you make a mistake, good luck, because all of them have the ability to bury pucks. I am a Patrick Sharp believer. He’s looked really good in preseason. Fast, smart, and healthy. He’s going to play with skilled players no matter which line he ends up on in the top 9, he’s going to get power play time and guess what else…he’s going to get 20+ goals again. Anisimov got the bulk of his points last year simply by going to the net and occupying defensemen as Kane and Panarin wheeled around the zone. He can do some of that same stuff with DeBrincat and Sharp. Those guys are shooters. They know how to get in good scoring areas. Anisimov goes to the net and bangs home the trash. LETS GOOO!

Hayden-Kero-Wingels/Bouma

It’s hard to say goodbye to Marcus Kruger. He was a great Blackhawk and one of the better defensive centers in the league. This line though, this group right here, is going to be a better fourth line than the Hawks had in the past. Kero has big shoes to fill from a defensive standpoint, but he has more offensive upside than Kruger. Hayden made the team out of camp and is expect to be an energy guy who will get in on the forecheck and pound opposing dmen. Wingels(I prefer Wingels to Bouma) is going to do the same thing. We are talking about a guy who has racked up over 200 hits three times in his career. This line is going to be ZERO fun to play against. The Blackhawks got bullied by Nashville last year and they couldn’t match the Preds energy. That won’t happen again.

The other thing that’s exciting about this line besides just the energy and physicality is that they too have some offensive pop. Kero finished last season, his first real taste of the NHL, with 16 points in 47 games. Wingels has had years with double digit goals. And we saw Hayden show some ability last year too

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When the Blackhawks have been great they have the ability to come at you in waves. Every line can score, every line can check, every line can make you want to quit. They have that ability again. This is the strength of the team and having great forwards who can control the puck will make life easier on the defense. LETS GO.

Special Teams

This is more of a throw-in type of comment, but everyone calling for the Blackhawks demise is ignoring the fact that they have real room for growth on special teams. In 2016-17 the power-play ranked 19th in the NHL at just 18% and the penalty kill was ABYSMAL. 24th in the league and just 77%. The Hawks made changes to the coaching staff and some of that was special teams driven. It looks as though they’re going to modernize the PP by using 4 forwards and one D on both units. Having Patrick Sharp back as the other trigger man on the PP will help. DeBrincat will certainly help there, as will Schmaltz, who didn’t get much PP time last year. They also have more options for net front with Saad, Hayden, and Hartman. Last year the Blackhawks really used Toews and Anisimov too much in that role. I would like Toews operating from the goal-line, not getting cross checked in the back a million times in front.

Hopefully having quicker D and quicker forwards will help on the PK as well when it comes to puck retrieval and exits. Obviously there’s more questions on the PK but I refuse to believe it can be THAT bad again. So while there’s going to be a learning curve with the defensemen, there’s also ways for this team to improve in the short term.

Reports of the Blackhawks demise have been wildly exaggerated. This team is too skilled and too proud to just whimper away again. There’s enough in that room right now to make a run. People around the league just don’t know it yet. Talent isn’t static. The improvement of Schmaltz, Hartman, Hayden, and Kero, the additions of Sharp and Saad, along with the bounce back from Toews means this group is ready to roll of people. It starts TONIGHT. Dynasty mufucking reign!