Editorials

Chicago Blackhawks’ Early Opening Night Lineup Projection

By Colin Likas
Oct 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville sits with his players during the third period of a preseason game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville sits with his players during the third period of a preseason game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /
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chicago blackhawks
Oct 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Alexandre Fortin (82) attempts a shot during the first period of the game against Detroit Red Wings during a preseason game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

Now, let’s go to the bottom six

So here’s where we are with our projected lineup after the Schmaltz decision:

Schmaltz-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

?-Kruger-?

?-?-?

And the guys we have to choose from are:

Andrew Desjardins, Alexandre Fortin, Ryan Hartman, Vincent Hinostroza, Brandon Mashinter, Mark McNeill, Tyler Motte, Richard Panik, Dennis Rasmussen, Jordin Tootoo

Let’s start with the obvious: One of Tootoo or Mashinter will take the ice on Oct. 12. I honestly don’t think it will be both, the way Q has rolled out his lineups this preseason. And at this point, I’d say Tootoo gets the early call. So we’ll slot him at fourth-line right wing.

Now, even though Kruger is a defensive-minded forward, we’d like to surround him with some guys capable of producing offense. We really don’t want to have two bottom lines that serve a defensive purpose and/or just float around.

I would love to see Fortin on Kruger’s left wing. The two connected for the Blackhawks’ fifth goal Tuesday against Detroit, and I think Fortin is responsible enough on the ice to play with Kruger. Fortin is tenacious on the puck in all zones, so as long as he doesn’t put himself out of position trying to steal said puck, he’d be a good partner for Kruger.

On the right side … yeah. This is a tough call. You can pick between Desjardins, Hinostroza, Motte and Panik here. I’m going to go with Panik for the opener.

Even though Motte is a better playmaker, Hinostroza offers more speed and Desjardins has played with Kruger quite a bit in the past, I think you’d like to get a power forward on this defense-offense third line. Panik can do a bit making plays but is better at finishing them off, and he’s a capable defender as well.

chicago blackhawks
Feb 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Dennis Rasmussen (70) celebrates scoring a goal during the third period against the Washington Capitals at the United Center. Chicago won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

That leaves just two spots on the bottom six

Let’s get to our updated lineup:

Schmaltz-Toews-Hossa

Panarin-Anisimov-Kane

Fortin-Kruger-Panik

?-?-Tootoo

And our remaining names up for the remaining spots:

Andrew Desjardins, Ryan Hartman, Vincent Hinostroza, Brandon Mashinter, Mark McNeill, Tyler Motte, Dennis Rasmussen

This is exactly why I wish the Blackhawks would shelve the idea of forcing an “enforcer” into their lineup. My hope would be Tootoo rides the bench and Mashinter goes back to Rockford to let offensively-capable guys take the ice. I know this won’t happen.

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So now you’ve got a mess to sift through here. Let’s say we need four more forwards — two for opening night, and two for the press box. The Blackhawks could roll with eight defensemen, which would mean we’d only need three more forwards, but I’m going to treat this as if the Blackhawks carry seven defensemen into opening night.

I’m going to rule out Mashinter for a spot in the opening night lineup, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him in the press box. I think Q really likes Hartman because he’s so much like Shaw, but I don’t know that Hartman has played close to well enough to earn a roster spot. That could still land him in the press box, so I’m giving one of those spots to a Mashinter-Hartman pick’em.

I also don’t think the Blackhawks will keep McNeill around for the regular season. He hasn’t done much to separate himself from others in training camp. I’m not sure what this means for McNeill’s future with the organization, but that’s another issue entirely.

So now we’re down to this list for two on-ice spots and one press-box spot:

Andrew Desjardins, Vincent Hinostroza, Tyler Motte, Dennis Rasmussen

My first thought would be the Blackhawks send Motte to Rockford for more conditioning and give him a crack at the main roster later during the regular season. While he’s been solid in the preseason, I don’t think he’s shown quite as much as Schmaltz, and I don’t think the Blackhawks are as intent on rushing him from college to the NHL as they are with Schmaltz.

So this leaves a hideous fourth line, to be sure. But Q has iced plenty of hideous lines (not just on the bottom six, either), so this isn’t a surprise. I think Desjardins will find the press box for the opener, as Hinostroza offers speed the Blackhawks have been missing — especially in the bottom six — and more offensive upside.

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