The Chicago Blackhawks are gearing up to hit the ice fairly soon, and they’re going to look brand spanking new with a ton of additions as well as some old faces coming back home
Chicago Blackhawks hockey is roughly two months away from another regular season. This one will see an overhauled team after two straight first-round playoff exits. This could be a good or bad thing.
Yesterday, I highlighted some potential trouble areas for the Blackhawks during the 2017-18 season. Today, I’m going to take a rosier approach and look at three Blackhawks you should be excited about watching this upcoming year.
Last season there were a few surprising impact contributors, perhaps none bigger than Chicago Blackhawks winger Richard Panik.
Panik spent his first few professional seasons bouncing around the Tampa Bay and Toronto organizations until he finally latched on with the Blackhawks during the 2015-16 season. It wasn’t until last year, however, that he became a major piece to the Blackhawks’ puzzle by potting 22 goals and 22 assists in a breakout campaign for the young Czech winger.
I expect Panik to start the season on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. What makes that so exciting is that I believe Toews is due for a bounceback run with Saad being the catalyst. The play of both those guys will rub off on Panik in a big way, and we may see him sniff a 30-goal season this year.
Another one of the surprise contributors last season was rookie winger Ryan Hartman. Hartman, a first-round pick in 2013, was on the verge of bust status. He got his shot last season and capitalized on it in a big way.
He scored 19 goals and had 12 assists while also providing a gritty presence the team desperately needed, and to top it off his grit came without the plethora of stupid penalties that were Andrew Shaw‘s trademark during his stint with the team.
Hartman will likely start the season on the third line, which if all goes well is where he should stay. If he can bring the same amount of scoring this upcoming season as he did last year and players like Nick Schmaltz solve their consistency issues, the Blackhawks shouldn’t have too much of an issue with supplemental scoring.
When Brandon Saad was traded in 2015, my first reaction was shock and anger. But after further review I feel the Blackhawks got the better end of that trade.
When the team then traded Artemi Panarin for Saad this summer, my first reaction was again shock and anger. But after further review I again believe the Blackhawks got the better end of the deal.
The knock on Saad when he left was that he overpriced himself, wouldn’t be successful outside of Chicago and would soon see his once promising career fade away. That turned out to be angry ‘Hawks fans and pundits spewing hot air as his two best offensive seasons came with the Blue Jackets.
I understand ‘Hawks’ fans reservations when it comes to trading Panarin, a young 70-point scorer who propelled Patrick Kane to a 100-point, Hart Trophy-winning season. But lets take a step back and look at it a different way.
Kane was on pace for a 100-point probable Hart Trophy-winning season in 2015 before a clavicle injury derailed his season, and that was without Panarin. Kane has shown he can score playing with pretty much anyone on his line, and I don’t expect that to change suddenly this season.
Toews’ best seasons came with Saad on his wing, and since Saad left Toews’ struggles have been widely written about. I don’t think that’s coincidence.
Saad is one of the most promising young two-way forwards in the NHL, which is a lot harder to find, believe it or not, than a 70-point scorer. The last bit is purely economical. Saad for $6 million a year for another four years is easily more valuable than Panarin for $6 million for two more seasons, and if Panarin keeps producing like he has, you know he’s going to be asking for a big paycheck in two years.
Saad makes this team better because he makes Toews better and is incredibly reliable in his own zone. Blackhawks fans should welcome him back with open arms.