Question marks dot the Chicago Blackhawks’ lineup during this offseason, maybe none larger than at the second-line left wing position
Speculation is the name of the game for the Chicago Blackhawks right now. Even after they seem wrapped up with their trades and free agents signings for the time being, there are still tons of questions following the Blackhawks into the 2017-18 season.
One of the biggest came about when general manager Stan Bowman dealt Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets last month for Brandon Saad in a multiplayer event. Saad filled a gaping hole that was the top-line left wing spot for the Blackhawks. But in the process, the second-line left wing spot became freed up.
There doesn’t seem to be as much consternation about this opening, however, as there was about the top-line slot. There’s good reason for that: Second-line right wing Patrick Kane could score 80-plus point with a bag of flour playing opposite him. And center Artem Anisimov isn’t a slouch either (faceoff struggles aside).
Still, it’s only reasonable to speculate who could wind up playing alongside these two in 2017-18. Assuming the Blackhawks don’t go outside the organization for someone — they’d have to do quite a bit of roster shifting to get that achieved — the role will be filled in-house.
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Today, let’s take a look at some second-line left wing options for the Blackhawks next season.
So we’ll start with the youngster many people are expecting great things from next season. Even though he’s just coming out of the Ontario Hockey League, DeBrincat is also coming off three consecutive seasons of 100 points. The most recent saw him post a whopping 127 in the regular season, with 38 more in the playoffs.
There’s expectation from a portion of the fan base that DeBrincat will slot right in at second-line left wing, and that’s why Bowman had no hesitancy in moving Panarin. While I believe DeBrincat will be given every chance in the preseason camps to earn this role, I’d pump the brakes on awarding it to him just yet.
DeBrincat is just 19 years old, and he hasn’t even seen AHL competition yet, let alone NHL opponents. The rise in competition can be a jarring experience for some guys. The best obviously cut through, and DeBrincat could eventually be among that group. But to expect him to be skating alongside Kane and Anisimov in early October, at this point in time, seems a stretch.
I’ll be glad to be proven wrong here, but I don’t expect the Blackhawks to rush DeBrincat if they don’t feel they have to, or if he shows he just isn’t ready for the NHL just yet.
Not a good idea, but it’s one that’s been floated in some circles since he re-signed in Chicago. Sharp is not the same player he was prior to being shipped to Dallas in 2015. The 35-year-old is coming off a season in which he suffered multiple concussions and required hip surgery. There’s a chance he isn’t ready to go on opening night, even.
Sharp was brought in to provide a solid third-line presence, and that’s what I think coach Joel Quenneville will ask of him. While I wouldn’t be stunned to see Sharp moonlighting on the second line from time to time, should he stay healthy, I don’t think the role is meant for him at this time.
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While Hinostroza brings tons of speed to any line, he’s not quite ready to play alongside the likes of Kane and Anisimov. Hinostroza is still working out his game on both sides of the puck, and while I did say Kane could play alongside anyone, that doesn’t mean you should just throw “a guy” there because you can.
Hinostroza, while noteworthy for his speed, is really just “a guy” for the Blackhawks right now. He’s a bottom-six player who needs to work on his decision making at both ends of the ice, as well being able to handle the rigors of a full NHL season.
Here’s an interesting option. Someone on Twitter (can’t remember who) recently pointed out that Anisimov does have experience playing on the wing. Considering he’s pretty bad at winning faceoffs but solid to good at most everything else that comes with being a forward, could the Blackhawks give him a run at left wing?
I’m going to say no, because the Blackhawks really don’t have anyone who can win draws at such a higher rate who they’d want to slot in as second-line center. If Sharp were 7 years younger, Q would probably try it. Nick Schmaltz needs to work on taking draws. Tanner Kero is not a top-six center. That about runs out your current options.
The Blackhawks need Anisimov at center more than they need him to be experimented with on the wing right now, so I’m ruling him out for the latter role.
I haven’t seen Fortin listed anywhere as a possibility for the second-line left wing role. I just think it’d be fascinating if he somehow landed in it.
Fortin was among the last roster cuts during the 2016 preseason. He was impressing the Blackhawks’ brass primarily with his offensive efforts, something that would obviously contribute to being on the team’s second line.
However, like DeBrincat, Fortin has nothing close to NHL experience (outside the camps). Fortin has spent the last three seasons in the QMJHL, and while he posted a career-best 52 points last regular season (with 16 more in the playoffs), one impressive camp does not a second-line winger make.
Fortin could make this year’s roster as a bottom-six player if the Blackhawks’ plethora of current bottom-six offerings disappoint, but I wouldn’t expect him starting in the NHL in 2017-18.
For my money, this is the Blackhawks’ current answer to their second-line left wing opening. I’m really not sure who else you’re supposed to put there unless DeBrincat makes himself unable to be cut in training camp (or unless Richard Panik gets pushed off the top line).
Hartman may seem like the perfect third-line player, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he could play at the second-line left wing spot next season. He’s recognized for being a grittier type of player, but he showed quite a bit of talent in his stickhandling, passing and shooting abilities last season, especially when playing alongside Hinostroza.
I think if Q and Co. get in Hartman’s ear and tell him he’s the favorite for this role as long as he cuts out the penalty garbage, he’ll live up to it right away. It should give him a major boost of confidence, and I think he has the chops to play alongside Kane and Anisimov.
Now, you may wonder why Schmaltz’s name didn’t come up here. Personally, I’d really prefer the Blackhawks kept him at center to start next season. The team has gotten very weak down the middle with Marcus Kruger‘s ouster, and I think developing a young guy like Schmaltz as a true center is the right move.
I wouldn’t be stunned to see Schmaltz make trips to the top six as a winger, but I think you could find him a nice home centering Sharp and someone else (Tomas Jurco, John Hayden) on the third line to start 2017-18. Schmaltz has top-six potential, but I’d like to see him reach it later in his career as a center. The Blackhawks will need it.