Now that the dust has (mostly) settled on the 2017 offseason and with training camp and the preseason games less than a month away, I think the time is ripe for us to take a hand at prognosticating just how Joel Quenneville will utilize his roster in the upcoming season.
Apart from the impending placement of Marian Hossa into long-term injured reserve (which should give way to a minor signing or two), the group you see now with the Blackhawks is where Coach Q will get his Opening Night roster from.
Here’s a look at my projected Opening Night roster:
L1: Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Richard Panik
The Man-Child’s return to the Madhouse on Madison couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for The Captain. After two rather subpar seasons, I expect Toews to be as hungry as ever, and with two back to back first round exits, an enormous chip on his shoulders. The addition of Panik’s offensive grit, who found considerable chemistry with Toews last season, should complement 19 and 20’s two-way game. Toews and Saad can easily bring/protect the puck in the offensive zone, leaving Panik free to crash the net and score those greasy goals. Also, Saad’s and Panik’s size would make Coach Q’s top line once again competitive against the other big top lines in the Western Conference.
L2: Patrick Sharp – Artem Anisimov – Patrick Kane
I will be completely honest. The Panarin trade still stings. Yea, we got Saader back, and yea I love Saader too, but man, I loved that Russian. The chemistry the Breadman had with Kaner was akin to a true mind-meld of hockey IQ’s. As much as it can be argued that Kaner was a huge component of Panarin’s Calder Trophy win, it cannot be denied that Panarin elevated Kaner’s game to a whole new, different, record-breaking level. So, should I be upset/worried/apoplectic that in exchange of a young (24), dynamic, top ten scorer, Kane and Anisimov are now playing with a 35 year old former Blackhawk who has just been through his most injury-intensive season thus far?
Say what you will about Patrick Sharp, but the guy clearly still has game. Case in point: in the 48 games that he played for the Dallas Stars last season, Sharpy had 261 total attempted shots and 146 shots on goal. That translates to 55% of all the shots he took were shots on goal. Sure he only put up 8 goals and 10 assists, but that can easily be blamed on not being healthy. Sharpy can also be beneficial on the face off dot. He can easily take draws for Anisimov if need be. Plus, he and Kaner have undeniable chemistry on the ice as well. Truth be told, Patrick Kane is pretty much like the tide; he raises all boats. And at a cheap, one year, $1 million dollar contract, Sharpy is pretty much a low-risk, high reward placeholder on 2LW until Alex Debrincat is ready for the National.
L3: Ryan Hartman – Nick Schmaltz – Tommy Wingels
Nick Schmaltz proved last year that he’s a center. Now, all he needs is to hone his faceoff prowess. The addition of Evanston native Tommy Wingels can be of tremendous help here. Wingels is pretty decent on the dot, and can easily muscle his way into taking back control of the puck in the event of a faceoff loss. Wingels is also a character guy on the locker room, and as the elder skatesman of the line, he can guide both Schmaltz and Hartman on the aspects of their game. All three pretty much bring speed into this line, and all three have considerable snarl in their game, especially Hartman, who is pretty much Andrew Shaw minus the stupid penalties. All in all, this is Q’s grit line.
L4: Lance Bouma – Tanner Kero – Tomas Jurco
I like this line. Kero was pretty much groomed last season as the heir apparent to Marcus Kruger. Jurco was given opportunities late last season, but the return so far has been very mixed. But Stan and Q obviously see some potential in his game, which is why he is still here. Bouma has some edge in his game, and he has experience on the penalty kill.
D1: Duncan Keith – Connor Murphy
The quicker Duncan Keith can familiarize Connor Murphy with the Blackhawks’ system, the quicker can Q utilize Murphy as a replacement for Nik Hjalmarsson. Murphy has a big body, he has the youth and the speed, and he has some offensive upside from playing alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson back in the desert. Playing alongside someone with Duncs’ prowess will come a long way for Murphy’s development.
D2: Michal Kempny – Brent Seabrook
I really don’t like the fact that Brent Seabrook suddenly became everybody’s favorite whipping boy. I’ll argue that apart from the ridiculous contract, Seabrook is very much an integral part of this hockey team. Sure, his game kind of slid the last two seasons, but then again, apart from Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford, so did everyone else’s. I think it can be attributed to being pretty much a babysitter for the past two seasons. Now that Kempny has a full year on his belt, I predict that Seabrook can go back to his game; joining in the attack on the offensive zone and dishing them sweet, sweet stretch passes.
D3: Gustav Forsling – Michal Roszival
I think Forsling and old man Roszy can be good for each other. They can watch each other’s back while giving the Hawks some serviceable minutes. Also, Forsling has found success last season with the stretch pass, so that’s something.
G: Corey Crawford – Anton Forsberg
I think this will be Corey Crawford’s most important season to date. Losing the Hammer and his blocked shots is a blow, but if Corey plays the way he did last season, he can alleviate some pressure on the D pairing in front of him, which in turn would allow the forward core to take more chances in the offensive zone. As far as backups are concerned, I think Forsberg wins the job out of camp. He actually brings more experience in the net than Scott Darling did when he won the job full time from Antti Raanta two seasons ago.