Question 1: Nick Schmaltz’s sophomore season will be the most important for the Blackhawks next year. When Schmaltz got hot for the ‘Hawks, he helped to solidify the top line into a serious threat. His streaky play also led the Blackhawks to a nice streak of their own throughout the beginning of 2017.
Schmaltz needs to gain this confidence back by whatever means necessary, whether that means he continues to focus primarily on wing or at the center position — where he very often struggled with faceoff battles. The kid has excellent vision and puck senses. It all comes down to working out the kinks and building the confidence back up.
Question 2: The Blackhawks simply have to search for defenseman in this year’s draft along with another true center. The Blackhawks came into the season with what on paper looked to be their most solid blue line in quite a few years. However, things didn’t go so swimmingly.
The position has to improve, and what time would be better than with Chicago’s first-round pick in their its backyard with the ‘Hawks’ faithful watching?
Question 1: With all the anxiety swirling around the ‘Hawks’ D-corps, I see Michal Kempny as the player with the biggest potential to make a major contribution to the team next season. Right from the start of last season, Kempny showed the attributes that make him such an intriguing addition to the team — a powerful skater, strong on the puck with a heavy shot.
But after committing several costly penalties over the first six weeks, he was benched for most of December and ended up skating in only 50 regular-season games, and one playoff game against Nashville.
When he played, Kempny was mostly paired with either Brent Seabrook or Michal Rozsival and compiled the highest puck possession numbers of all Blackhawks skaters, showing he can move the puck and initiate scoring chances. His 76 hits were second only to Seabrook among ‘Hawks defensemen.
With a year’s worth of NHL ice time under his skates, the durable 26-year-old Czech blueliner definitely has the talent and legs to log 70-plus games and should get real consideration for heavy minutes on the second pairing, regardless of what happens with over-the-hill or injury-prone players like Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya.
The Blackhawks are definitely a team in transition, and need the younger players to deliver on their huge potential. Guys like Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero and Nick Schmaltz were doing it up front last season — now it’s time for defensemen like Kempny and Gustav Forsling to step up.
Question 2: A speedy power forward who can score. OK — every team’s looking to land the next Connor McDavid, so how ‘bout a big netminder to spark some competition among the group hoping to succeed Corey Crawford?
Not likely, at least in the early rounds, and I expect Stan Bowman to trade for a veteran goaltender this summer now that Scott Darling’s gone to Carolina. That leads me to a right-handed defenseman, but the ‘Hawks already have a boatload of mediocre blueliners “in the system.”