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Chicago Blackhawks’ Forwards Preview For 2017-18 Season

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TAMPA, FL - JUNE 13: Brandon Saad
TAMPA, FL - JUNE 13: Brandon Saad /
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There has been plenty of turnover this offseason with the Chicago Blackhawks’ forwards, so let’s take a look at what we might be able to expect in 2017-18

This offseason was full of large-scale changes for our beloved Chicago Blackhawks — some sensible and some up for question. While fans will see an almost entirely different bottom six than in years past, the newly acquired depth allows for endless different line combinations.

Projected season-opening lines

Line 1

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsRichard Panik

This line is pretty much penciled in for most fans and analysts throughout the league, especially after the following 2017 draft day blockbuster:

Coach Joel Quenneville will inevitably reunite Toews and Saad to try to get Toews’ offensive game back on track, as he has seen a large dip in production since Saad was traded from Chicago in the cap crunch roster purge following the 2015 Cup.

We already know Toews and Panik play well together as evidenced last season, so the big question mark on this line will be how well Panik and Saad mix. Can this trio recreate the fantastic 20-19-81 top line that we saw win a Cup in 2015? Time will tell.

Dark horse(s) for this line: Ryan Hartman, Patrick Sharp

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Line 2

Patrick SharpArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane OR Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

The big question mark on the second line, which really could be the first line if the Toews line wasn’t automatically the first line, is how much Quenneville trusts young gun Schmaltz.

While Schmaltz was thrown around all four lines and all three positions last year, he could benefit from some stability. Add the fact that he’s a natural center to the flashes of greatness we saw he and Kane combine for last year, and there is a lot to be excited about.

If Q doesn’t deem Schmaltz ready, Anisimov has proven chemistry with Kane, although his faceoff numbers are subpar. Sharp could be seen as another question mark on this line simply because some question how his offseason hip surgery, combined with his age and decline in play last bseason, will affect his overall game.

Sharp plays a solid 200-foot game and isn’t afraid to play physically to protect his teammates, which is exactly the kind of linemate that Kane needs. Some fans are calling for the immediate placement of prospect and OHL phenom Alex DeBrincat on this line, but many forget that he has yet to play a pro game, and some seasoning in Rockford could prove to be beneficial.

Dark horse(s) for this line: Alex DeBrincat, Ryan Hartman, Alexandre Fortin, Vincent Hinostroza

Line 3

Tomas JurcoNick SchmaltzRyan Hartman OR Tommy WingelsArtem AnisomivRyan Hartman

The bottom six becomes dicey trying to predict just because of the amount of bottom-six talent general manager Stan Bowman has acquired through free agency, trading and drafting. The entire makeup of the third line depends solely on who Q decides is a better fit to center his second line.

If he chooses to have Schmaltz center the third line, he would want younger and faster talent around him, creating a serious secondary scoring threat. This potential line also depends on the performance of Jurco, specifically whether or not he can elevate his level of play from last year to this year.

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  • If Q wants to have Anisimov center his third line, I think he will go for more of a checking-type line. Wingels, Anisimov and Hartman are all big bodies who play a lot bigger than they are, with both wingers not afraid to play a grinder-type of game. This line could wear out opposition while putting the puck in the net as well.

    What makes this line even harder to predict, is Quenneville could even decide to put Schmaltz on a wing, have Anisimov as second-line center and make Tanner Kero the third-line center. Kero proved last year he can handle the job, and would benefit from more playing time in the role.

    The endless potential combinations on this line, and the fourth line, definitely endorse the phrase “the Q line blender,” which I’m sure we’ll see a lot of this upcoming season.

    Dark horse(s) for this line: Tanner Kero, John Hayden, Alexandre Fortin

    Line 4

    Tomas Jurco, Lance Bouma, Vinnie Hinostroza, John Hayden, Tanner Kero, Laurent Dauphin, Tommy Wingels, Jordin Tootoo (why…!)

    The potential combinations for this fourth line are endless, and it all really comes down to what Quenneville is trying to get out of this line. Does he want speed and scoring? Does he want shutdown and grit? Does he want both?

    What it really comes down to here is that the Blackhawks have a lot of depth in the bottom six, and Quenneville is tasked with figuring out which pieces fit where and who plays best with whom. So, let’s review the options.

    In my opinion, because of the excess depth, Tootoo should be watching the game from the press box most nights — aside from games against St. Louis, for example, where his grit is needed. The Blackhawks just have so many better, younger, faster options.

    Bouma, Dauphin and Wingels all have something to prove in this year’s camp, as it’s the first time fans and staff get to see them up close and playing with their new teammates.

    Dauphin is a taller playmaking center the Blackhawks could benefit from on the bottom six, but he has limited NHL experience.

    Bouma is an NHL veteran who lacks offensive upside but has serious defensive upside, doing things fans can fall in love with, things that ’Hawks fans will miss watching Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marcus Kruger do. Delivering big hits, killing penalties and sacrificing the body all are considered “dirty work,” but they are necessary for a team.

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    Lastly, Chicago native Wingels is known for much of the same, but brings playoff experience as well, which Chicago can never have enough of.

    Hayden saw limited time last year because of the length of his college season. He started his NHL career on the top line, was very impressive in his small stint with the team and even saw a game of playoff action. He has a strong shot, can hit well and can skate with top-tier players. With more game action and time to grow, this kid could become a force to be reckoned with.

    Hinostroza is yet another player with some NHL experience, but who could maybe benefit from some more time in Rockford. We have seen flashes of greatness from him on four lines at one point with the Blackhawks, and his speed is better than that of most. If he can gain some confidence, bulk up and learn to play a more side-to-side game, he has great upside as well.

    Fourth-line possibilities (some of many)

    BoumaDauphinWingels

    BoumaDauphinHayden

    HinostrozaKeroHayden

    Next: Chicago Blackhawks’ 10 Burning Questions Heading Into Training Camp

    If I am Quenneville, this is what my lines look line for Game 1 of the playoffs (assuming all prospects pan out):

    Saad–Toews–Panik

    DeBrincat–Schmaltz–Kane

    Sharp–Anisimov–Hartman

    Bouma–Kero–Wingels

    GO ’HAWKS!

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