Things to look for as Blackhawks begin 2017 preseason in Columbus

The Chicago Blackhawks open preseason play tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The roster that Chicago is icing tonight at Nationwide Arena is, well, not necessarily “loaded”.  As usual, the Hawks will roll out the big guns at home ice.

Forwards:

Kyle Baun, Radovan Bondra, Lance Bouma, Laurent Dauphin, John Hayden, Matthew Highmore, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tomas Jurco, David Kampf, Graham Knott, Anthony Louis, Drew Miller, John Mitchell, Will Peletier, Nick Schmaltz

Defensemen:

Carl Dahlstrom, Gustav Forsling, Cody Franson, Henri Jokiharju, Michal Kempny, Darren Raddysh, Jan Rutta, Mark Stuart

Goalies:

Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass, Matt Tomkins

One thing that jumps at me is that most of the forwards the Hawks are icing tonight are the ones that are generally in the mix for/fighting for spots in the fourth line. Bouma, who was signed at the trade deadline on a one-way contract, is usually penciled in the fourth line along with Tommy Wingels and Tanner Kero.  The fact that Jurco, Hinostroza , Dauphin and Hayden, along with PTO tryouts Miller and Mitchell, are also in this trip could signal that the fourth line is not necessarily set in stone yet, and they may still have a chance to break into the roster for Opening Night.  It could all come down to how well they perform on the penalty kill.

As for the d-men, look for Forsling and Franson to be your top d-pairing. Franson, on a PTO, was not brought in to play top-line minutes, but he can be an asset with special teams, and in case of an injury.  This will also be the first time that we will see 2017 first round pick Jokiharju in an actual game, as well as this summer’s free agent signing, Jan Rutta.

As for Columbus’ line up this evening:

Panarin – Dubois – Foligno Broadhurst – Camper – Abramov Motte – Vigneult –Moutrey Hannikainen – Sedlak – Koules

Carlsson – Jones Werenski – Siebenaler Kukan – Savard

Korpisalo, Kivlenieks

It’s not an accident that Artemi Panarin is opening the first game of the preseason for Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella, as it won’t be an accident if Forsberg starts tonight against his old team. Torts is definitely showcasing his brand new toy in front of the home crowd, slotting him on the first line with 2014 third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois on center and the Blue Jackets’ captain Nick Foligno on RW.

Speaking of Schmaltz, it would be interesting to see how Chicago will utilize him tonight. I expect the Hawks to slide him into 1C.  Schmaltz has been terrific in 2C in training camp, and has shown significant chemistry with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp, as well as Alex DeBrincat when a DeBrincat-Schmaltz-Kane line was iced on practice the last day or two.  If he blossoms even further at center, Q can utilize Artem Anisimov down at 3C, and be extremely potent down the middle come Opening Night.

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