Chicago Blackhawks’ Bottom Six: A Closer Look For 2017-18 Season
By Ryan Leidig
With free agent signings and young players making an impact last year, one big question for the Chicago Blackhawks this year is about what the bottom six will look like
We know what the Chicago Blackhawks’ top two lines should look like for the 2017-18 season, minus the left wing position on the second line. That position should be filled by Patrick Sharp or maybe Nick Schmaltz.
Although Schmaltz is naturally a center, they may want him to develop playing more time in a top-six role. With him having great potential, playing him in a fourth-line role will not do anything for his development. He may end up centering the third line to develop more as a center at the NHL level.
Sharp has had success with second-line right wing Patrick Kane before, but after concussions and a hip surgery last year there is no guarantee Sharp can play top-six minutes. As of now, I believe that the second-line winger spot is Sharp’s to lose. If he can play at a high level and prove he belongs there, he may stick on the second line.
With six forward spots left to fill, there are a lot of questions for coach Joel Quenneville to sift through. There are 13 players who are good options, on top of a few prospects who could also crack the opening night roster.
Glance at the third line
The third line is where I see a big shuffle with Coach Q. One of the possibilities that could be intriguing would be a sophomore line of Ryan Hartman, Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza. While having three players in their second year may not be ideal, it has some true potential.
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Hartman had a breakout season in 2016-17, scoring 19 goals and 31 points. While being able to score, he also brings physicality. If he can use his physical presence to open the ice and position himself down low, he can be dangerous and make this line effective.
Schmaltz has a high ceiling, and developing into a true center is what the Blackhawks want from him. Last season he had an issue with confidence, but after a small stint in the AHL it seems that has passed. In 61 NHL games, Schmaltz put up six goals and 28 points while showing his true playmaking abilities. If he can work on getting stronger on the puck and his faceoff ability, Schmaltz has a chance to be a great NHL player.
Hinostroza is the big question mark for the third line, but if he can continue to improve on last season he has a good chance of sticking there. Playing in 49 games, Hinostroza scored six goals and 14 points. His true potential lies in his speed. If he can work on handling the puck, and making good decisions Hinostroza will be a great asset on this line.
It has also been noted that both Hartman and Hinostroza have been putting in some time this offseason training with Kane. Both players having potential, training with Kane will help bolster their skills and make help them stick on the roster.
Glancing at the fourth line
The fourth line could end up being a shutdown checking line. With the signings of Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels in the offseason, it’s clear that general manager Stan Bowman is trying to bring in a bit of physicality.
In the first-round playoff series against Nashville last season, the ‘Hawks seemed to get pushed around a bit. Having a physical checking and shutdown line could help wear down some opponents. One combination that could work on the fourth line would be Wingels, Bouma and John Hayden.
Hayden showed good potential at the end of last season. Hayden played in 12 games, scoring one goal and four points to go with 44 hits and a plus-3 rating. With his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), Hayden is a big body that can bring a physical presence. While he didn’t play center last year, he can play down low and create opportunities, allowing him to be a great option for the fourth line.
Wingels is a newcomer this season but has had success in the past. He’s got the ability to play on the wing or down the middle. Having multiple seasons with more than 200 hits, he can bring the body. While his stats don’t show it well, he also has the ability to shoot the puck. Where Wingels will excel on this line is creating open ice and getting the puck to the net. He can also play a great shutdown role and might see some time on the penalty kill.
Da Windy City
Bouma is an interesting signing for the ‘Hawks. After spending his whole career up to this point in Calgary, what he can bring to the table is defense. He can play both the wing and center positions. Last year he primarily played center for the Flames. Bouma led all Calgary centers in defensive-zone starts last year, with 67.6 percent of his shifts starting in the defensive zone.
With these predictions, there are a few players who should see ice time that I’ve not included yet. Three players who should get some ice time, whether it be from injury or an inferior performance, are Tanner Kero, Laurent Dauphin and Jordin Tootoo.
Kero had a solid performance last year, scoring six goals and 16 points. Where Kero will be used is his shutdown defense. With the departure of Marcus Kruger, Kero should be a piece to fill that void.
While being called up last year because of the injury to Kruger, Kero made a great impression on Coach Quenneville. Kero’s ability to play a shutdown defensive role as well as add some scoring should allow him to see a good amount of ice time. If any player isn’t playing to his potential, Kero could see a lot more ice time.
Dauphin should see some time, as Bowman sees him being ready to make a jump to the NHL. Dauphin is a speedster, with the ability to finish. While only having 32 games at the NHL level, Dauphin has scored three goals and four points. He may still need some time to develop, but he plays a true center role and can hopefully add some depth to the faceoff circle in the bottom six.
Lastly is Tootoo. Bringing physical play and energy, he may see some time in the face of an injury or in certain matchups. Last year, Tootoo saw 50 games. While he may not have a significant impact, he is another physical presence. If there is a matchup where Coach Q sees the need to have an enforcer type, Tootoo should get the call.
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There is always uncertainty when it comes to depth players and the bottom six, especially with Coach Quenneville. As his “line blenders” happen so often, there will be several surprise combinations. The ‘Hawks have a lot of options and a lot of questions. With this depth, it should help in making the Blackhawks a competitive team this season.